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GOVERNMENT OF INDIA 


DEPARTMENT OF ARCHAEOLOGY 

CENTRAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL 
LIBRARY 




THE WISDOM OF THE EAST SERIES 
Edited by J. L. CRANMER-BYNG, M.C. 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 





Persian Proverbs 


by 

L. P. ELWELL-SUTTON, B.A. 

Lecturer in. Persian, 

University of Edinburgh, 



John Murray, Albemarle Street. 
London, W. 


First Edition . . • ^954 


central ARCHAEOLOGIGAK 
LIBRARY, NLW JluHL 
Aoo, No. 2.30/. 










Printed in Great Britain by Butler & Tanner Ltd,.,Trome and London 
and Published by John Murray (PubllsHers) Ltd. 



CONTENTS 



i /,| 

I Introduction . 

\ I. The Fleeting World 

. 

1 2 , Practical Wisdom . 

[^13. Foresight and Self-reliance 
I ' 4. Virtue Its Own Reward 

I 5. Misers and Skinflints 

; 6 . The Folly of Boasting . 

; \ 7. Too Many Cooks . . . 

: ;« 8. Honesty and Friendship . 

i ^ 

I 9. Man’s True Worth 

' ** Bibliography , 

i ‘’f 

: Glossary 

j 



page 

I 

II 


21 

31 

40 

48 

56 

65 

78 


96 

97 


V 


EDITORIAL NOTE 

The object of the Editor of this series is a very definite one. He 
desires above all things that these books shall be the ambassadors of 
good-will between East and West. He hopes that they will con- 
tribute to a fuller knowledge of the great cultural heritage of the East, 
for only through real understanding will the West be able to appreciate 
the underlying problems and aspirations of Asia to-day. He is 
confident that a deeper knowledge of the great ideals and lofty 
philosophy of Eastern thought will help to a revival of that true 
spirit of charity which neither despises nor fears the nations of another 
creed and colour. 

J. L. CRANMER-BYNG. 

so , Albemaklb Street, 

London, W.i. 


vi 


INTRODUCTION 


Popular folk-lore has long since emerged from the contempt in 
which it was formerly held by men of letters. Even in the East, 
where classical Hterary standards still hold universal sway, the 
more progressive writers are beginning to explore the wealth 
hidden in this field and to realize that the pithy and pungent 
mode of expression of the common people, their vividness and 
directness of imagination, can add something to an author’s work 
that he can never get from imitation of the old models. 

Proverbs contain tlie essence of this popular wisdom, and even 
the small collection presented in this book is sufficient to paint 
a hvely picture of Persian Hfe and character. It is of course a 
Persia that is receding, if not into the past, at any rate into the 
background. In the cities and big towns a new industriahzed 
life is growing up that wdl have to develop its own standards 
of conduct, and in wliich some of the older virtues and vices will 
doubtless be lost. But even here the new ideas wiU have to be 
grafted on to the accumulated past, and for a proper understand- 
ing of the Persia of to-day, we must have an insight into the 
Persia out of which it is growing. 

Our proverbs show us a people hving close to the earth. 
There is much accurate observation of nature — of the weather, 
the seasons, wild life. It is, however, a settled village life that we 
see rather than the nomadic hfe of the tribes. Tribal lore seems 
to have contributed little to Persian proverbial wisdom, though 
doubtless its absence is due to the isolation and inaccessibility of 
the tribes rather than their failure to crystalhze their experience 
into proverbial form. But the proverbs we have are those of 
people living in houses ; they deal with household furniture and 


2 


INTRODUCTION 


Utensils, with household occupations, cleaning, sleeping, cooking, 
sewing. There is much of family and domestic life — relations 
with husbands and wives, neighbours, shopkeepers, the public 
baths, births, deaths and marriages, and so on. Among the 
occupations referred to we find shepherds, camel-drivers, farmers, 
woodcutters, charcoal-burners, potters, carpenters, millers, dyers, 
tailors, washermen and barbers. The busy life of the bazaar is 
revealed, with its haggling traders, crafty merchants and business 
transactions. The personalities of community life arc met, the 
village headman, the molla, the qazi, the teacher and the doctor ; 
their world is organized, there is law, authority, rehgion. With 
the outside world indeed there is Httle contact. Travel is looked 
on with distaste, the sea with horror. Kings and princes, or the 
heroes and heroines of Hterature, figure from time to time, but 
in a rather remote way. It is the common man, the peasant or 
villager, who is the central figure, and it is his problems that are 
observed. 

He finds himself in an insecure and chancy world, in which a 
man must have patience and a sense of humour if he is to survive. 
He is urged to be cautious but persevering, self-reliant and 
honest. Generosity, hospitaHty, gratitude and wisdom arc the 
virtues encouraged, trickery, greed, miserliness, injustice, vanity 
and selfishness the vices, evidently all too common, to be de- 
plored. The ideal man of the proverbs has tlie qualities of the 
Zoroastrian hero — ^pure speech, pure vision, pure deeds — 
tempered by the practical wisdom that stems from centuries of 
hardship and disaster. 

Proverbs are still widely used by Persians of aU classes. Persian 
speech as a whole is full of picturesque phrases and expressive 
idioms, of which the following may serve as a small sample ; 
“ My tongue grew hairs ” (I was tired out with talking, giving 
advice) ; “ Don’t boil, your milk will go dry ” (said to someone 


INTRODUCTION 


3 

getting unreasonably angry) ; ofa great uproar, “ A dog couldn’t 
have recognized his master,” “ If you had dropped a needle, it 
wouldn’t have reached the floor.” To someone who apologizes 
for turning his back on you you may reply, “ A flower has 
neither back nor front ” ; of an aged man it might be said that 
“ when they erected the arch of the sky, he put up half of it 
And many would sympathize with the comment on someone’s 
illegible handwriting ; “ If you put it in the sun, it would walk.” 

It is unfortunately impossible to render in translation the con- 
ciseness with which many of these sayings and proverbs are 
expressed, still less to give any idea of their rhythm and rhyme. 
Something of this may perhaps be sensed from the following 
examples, in the original language, of some of the proverbs 
quoted later in this book. 

Fel'fel rna'bin die 'rizi, besh'kan be'bin di6 'tize. 

Don’t judge a pepper-corn by its smallness, crack it and see 
how sharp it is. (Page 29.) 

Cha'Mr di'vM ekhti'ydri. 

Four walls make a free man. (Page 38.) 

'Har ke 'fehr-e 'khishast, 'kuse he-'fekr-e 'rishast. 

Everybody thinks of himself ; even the thin-beard thinks 
of Ins beard. (Page 41.) 

Na'khod khor'i ndkas de'hi, 'gandi ko'ni be' sag de'hi. 

You don’t eat it yourself nor give it to others ; you let it 
go rotten and then give it to the dog. (Page 49.) 

'Kur-e bi'nd behtar az bi'nd-e 'hur. 

A blmd man who sees is better than a seeing man who is 
blind. (Page 57.) 

Ta'U ki ' pak ast, die hd'jatash bekhdk ast ? 

Gold in its purity need fear nothing from the earth. 
(Page 89.) 



4 


INTRODUCTION 


The simplicity and directness of these examples is evidence of 
their colloquial origin. Most of the proverbs quoted in this 
book are in fact colloquial ; whether or not this form is the 
oldest (and there is no doubt that a few have a Hterary origin), 
it is certainly the most effective. Many have been versified or 
given Hterary form by one writer or another ; but even the 
most brilHant poets have only succeeded in blurring the vividness 
of the original. 

In making the present selection the writer has had in mind the 
thought that a good proverb should have a certain pungency, 
a modicum of wit. There are in Persian, as in all languages, 
a great many platitudinous sayings — “ Mankind are members 
one of another,” “ True piety consists in serving the people,” 
” Obedience is the root of prosperity,” “ Do not put off to-day’s 
work till to-morrow,” “ Silence indicates consent,” ” Content- 
ment makes a man rich,” “ He who has gold has power,” 
“ Envy is a disease for which there is no cure.” Since many 
of these ideas have been more wittily expressed in proverbial 
form, it has been thought proper to omit them in their natural 
state, even though they are in common usage. 

Selection has in any case had to be drastic. One of the largest 
modem collections, that by Ah Akbar Dehkhoda, contains some 
25,000 proverbs, and even that Hst is by no means complete. 
Persian proverbs are part of the stream of popular lore and legend 
that appears to have begun in India or Central Asia and passed 
by degrees through the Middle East to Europe. It is indeed 
impossible to draw a hard and fast Hne, otlier than that of 
language, between the national folk-lores of tins vast area. 
Equivalents, often word for word the same, are found in Urdu, 
Persian, Armenian, Kurdish, Arabic, Turkish, and coming 
further west, in Greek, Latin and the modem European 
languages. In East and West aHke people “ bury the hatchet ”, 



INTRODUCTION 


5 

they “ lay the axe to the root ”, they ask “ who will bell the 
cat ”, they observe that “ dog does not eat dog ”, and they laugh 
at “ the pot for calling the kettle black ”. The national differ- 
ences He rather in mode of expression or perhaps choice of 
imagery, though naturally every community has its own private 
sayings based on local legend. 

Such, for example, is the exclamation employed, especially 
in Isfahan, to express astonishment or wonder : “ We have 
journeyed through three hundred and sixty-six valleys, but we 
have never yet seen a man with two heads I ” The “ three 
hundred and sixty-six valleys ” are supposed to refer to a 
desolate waste, some say near Isfahan, others on the way to 
Mazandaran, which, the story goes, was once haunted by a 
demon with the habit of Hcking the feet of travellers while they 
slept and sucking their blood. One night two travellers, an 
Isfahan! and a Turk, found themselves stranded in this ill- 
omened place. For a while they kept themselves awake by 
teUing stories, but eventually diey could keep it up no longer. 
Isfahanis, however, are noted for their ingenuity and resourceful- 
ness, and this one was no exception. “ I’m a demon myself ! ” 
he exclaimed. “ Where’s the demon that can touch me ? 
Now, let us He down in opposite directions, you put your feet 
under my armpits, and I’U put mine under yours, and then we’ll 
be quite safe.” Sure enough, before long the demon smelt 
human flesh, and sniffing round the sleeping men, he found a 
head at one end and a head at the other. At a loss, he “ bit the 
finger of amazement and disappointment” and exclaimed, 
“ By God ! I have journeyed through three hundred and sixty- 
six valleys, but I have never yet seen a man with two heads ! ” 

As will be seen, many of the proverbs quoted in this book are 
associated with fables of this kind. There is no telling whether 
the stories are the origin of the proverbs or the proverbs of the 


6 


INTRODUCTION 


stories, and it is indeed quite unprofitable to speculate. It is 
certainly true that it is easier to identify the proverbs themselves 
than it is to track down the legends that go with them. One 
assiduous worker in this field, Amir Qoli Amini, gives the 
following account of his difficulties. 

“ I had to spend a great deal of my time in company and conversation 
with ordinary, illiterate people, and, as they put it, ‘ to give a heart and 
take a kidney before I could profit from their invaluable store of 
information. But after a time I found that the conversation of a corn- 
chandler, a grocer or a ploughman, even though he could not distinguish 
a pronoun from a preposition, left a stimulating and indeed disturbing 
impression on me that I would never have got from conversation with 
an educated man. 

“ Often when I asked them questions about proverbs and fables, I 
would get such a generous response, they would so lavish on me the 
wealth of lore stored in tlieir memories, that I was moved to an extent 
that I could never have imagined. The more ample and delightful 
their stories were, the more my interest and enthusiasm was aroused. 
When a goldsmith told me a particular story, I felt as though he had 
freely given me the finest masterpieces of the skilled craft of his two 
hands, with all its gold and jewellery. 

“ I was not content with craftsmen, but associated as freely as I could 
witli servants, cab-drivers and taxi-drivers, and in the same way, when 
I weirt into the villages, I lived with the peasants. Whenever the 
opportunity offered itself, I at once took out of my pocket my notebook 
or some scraps of paper, and began asking questions. 

“ ‘ Now, my friend, what do you know about our proverbs ? Tell, 
me, what is the original story of the proverb “ An apple thrown into 
the air wiU turn a thousand times before it reaches the ground,” or 
” Escape may lie between tliis pillar and that ” ? ’ 

“ Out of every hundred people it usually happened that ninety-nine 
claimed ignorance. Fifty per cent could only answer my questions 
with a few simple and hackneyed sayings. 

1 To converse with warmth and enthusiasm. 



INTRODUCTION 


7 


“ Is it not surprising that a craftsman or a peasant may know hundreds 
of proverbs, and yet, unless the appropriate moment arises and one of 
them comes automatically and instinctively to his tongue, he cannot call 
to mind half a dozen from the treasury of his subconscious in order to 
repeat them to you?” 

One does not always meet the difficulties that Mr. Amini 
encountered. There are still many — from professional story- 
tellers to nurses and grandmothers — who have a wealth of such 
fables and legends at the tip of the tongue, and are only too wilHiig 
to retail them to anyone patient enough to listen. It is unfor- 
tunately true that little enough has been done to commit all this 
material to writing. Those who hold it are mostly ilHterate, 
and receive and pass it on by word of mouth. Some stories of 
course have found their way into collections like the Thousand 
and One Nights ; another very famous collection is that known 
in India as the Fables of Bidpai, and in Persia and the Middle East 
as the Book of Kalile and Demni. Proverbs and traditional 
stories are also constantly used by Persian poets and other 
writers. Sa'di’s Golestan (Rose-garden) and Bustan (Flower- 
garden), anthologies of the wisdom and fable accumulated by 
him during his extensive travels, have themselves given currency 
to sayings and aphorisms whose originals must date from long 
before the thirteenth century in wliich he wrote. The same is 
true of the Masnavi or mystical poem of Jalal ad-Din Rumi, 
sometimes described as the Persian Koran, and of the works of 
poets Hke Jami, Nezami, Attar and Hafez. The Koran itself 
and the many Traditions of the Prophet, authentic and other- 
wise, are a further source of present-day popular lore. 

Some idea of die antiquity of these fables may be gathered 
from the fact tliat many of them are to be found among those 
attributed to Aesop. Readers of the present work will recog- 
nize “The Old Man and Death” (No. CXXII in Thomas 


8 


INTRODUCTION 


James’s version, page 12 in the present book), “ The Dog and 
the Shadow” (No. XXIV and page 26), “The Boasting 
Traveller ” (No. CXCV and page 59), “ The Fox and the 
Crow ” (No. CLXXXIII and page 67), “ The Ant and the 
Grasshopper ” (No. XII and page 70), and “ The Thief and 
his Mother ” (No. Cl and page 73) ; there is also a similarity 
in theme between the stories on pages 37 and 53, and “ The 
Stag in the Oxstall ” (No. LIII) and “ The Miser ” (No. CXCII). 
More thorough inquiry would no doubt reveal further similari- 
ties, and indeed there is a profitable field of research in a detailed 
comparison and correlation of the folk-lore of India, the Middle 
East and Europe. 

So much for the similarities, the common basis of the pro- 
verbial wisdom of the Old World. If there were no more to 
it than that there might seem to be little justification for the 
study of its manifestations in any particular community. But 
in fact, of course, there is a great deal more. There may be a 
common stream of ideas, but as they pass through each cultural 
area they become changed and transmuted through contact with 
and absorption by local character, tradition and custom. Of no 
people is this more true than of the Persians, whose capacity for 
incorporating and “ Persianizing ” foreign importations in all 
fields of thought has become a byword. A study of their pro- 
verbs and the folk-lore attached to them will not only give us an 
idea of the outside influences to which they have been subjected 
in the past, but will also illuminate their ways of thought and 
their national characteristics to an extent that perhaps no other 
medium can do. The literary classics of die past and the present 
will give us the products of the best minds of Persia in poetry, 
science, Instory and philosophy ; but these great minds emerged 
from a common heritage that has a formative effect on all tiiose 
who share it. Only through folk-lore can the outsider hope to 


INTRODUCTION 


9 

gain even a glimpse of tliis heritage ; yet without a knowledge 
of it he cannot begin to understand why Persians — or for the 
matter of that, Arabs, Frenchmen or Russians — tbink and behave 
as they do. 

It is no easy task. Even when all the relevant material has 
been collected (and, as we have seen, that process is by no means 
complete), we have still the practical problem of idiomatic 
translation from a language structurally different from ours. 
More significant still, it is a language whose background is 
entirely different from that of our own. Even the scenery, the 
climate, the wild Hfe — the sources, in fact, from wliich the 
images are drawn — are all different ; a loaf of bread means one 
thing to us, another tiring to a Persian. Nor are ideas and 
images associated in the same way ; in Persia, for instance, the 
sun is generally a torment from which one is glad to escape, in 
Britahr it is a rare and welcome visitor. The problem becomes 
progressively more complex as we move into the sphere of 
abstract ideas. We are up against a whole new way of thought, 
a whole new culture, and we can only absorb it gradually and by 
contact and study over a long period of time, just as a child 
gradually absorbs the culture and ways of thought of Iris parents. 

The present book has no such ambition. It does not even set 
out to give a comprehensive or representative survey of the 
proverbs of Persia, but rather to take a few at random, a handful, 
as they tliemselves would say, from tlie donkey-load. Many 
of them the writer first encountered in conversation and discus- 
sion in Persia, tliough the majority are also to be found in one or 
other of the Persian pubhcations listed in the first part of the 
bibliography. There are, however, a number that do not seem 
yet to have made their way into print and, moreover, these 
Persian pubhcations are not easily accessible even to scholars. 
The writer would prefer to think of the present book not so 


10 


INTRODUCTION 


much as a fresh contribution to the knowledge of Persian pro- 
verbs, as a means of bringing them before the EngHsh-speaking 
pubHc for the first time. In defence of its shortcomings of 
purpose and of achievement, the writer can only claim that 
“ a house is built to the ability of its builder ”, or, as the Arabs 
say, “ the gift is the measure of the giver 
One final point needs to be made in connexion with the system 
used for the spelling of Persian names and words. There is un- 
fortunately as yet no accepted system of transliteration for Persian, 
as there is for Arabic ; the latter, though commonly used for 
Persian, is quite unsuitable to it and in no way represents the 
current pronunciation of the Persian language. The system 
adopted in the present book is based on that devised by the 
writer for his Colloquial Persian in 1941. It may be helpful to 
mention that the accent in Persian generally falls on the last 
syllable. The only deviations from the “ system ” are names 
and words that have become anglicized to an extent that pre- 
cludes experiment. Thus one would not wish to interfere with 
bazaar, Koran, Avicenna, dervish, kabob, Kabul or Turcoman ; 
and for the same reason words like Isfahan, Kurd, Sunnite, 
Muhammad, Fatima, Kerbela, Azerbaijan and Turkestan have 
been left in their common form. 



I. THE FLEETING WORLD 

The prouerbs that follow have for convenience been divided, somewhat 
arbitrarily, into various groups according to the general topics with which they 
deal. It goes ivithout saying that no such division exists in the minds of those 
who use them, and it may even be misleading in that it brings into too great 
prominence the apparent contradictions always inherent in proverbial lore. In 
this fast section we are concerned with the vagaries of fate and the changing 
fortunes of life on earth. Sudden disaster and utter destitution have been all 
too common features of life in Persia. Of a poor man it might he said that 
he has not a sigh to trade for a groan ”, or that “ his pocket is cleaner than 
a mollas gaberdine “ Even death ”,for such a man, “ is a wedding 
“ the water of his life has been poured into a muslin sieve ”, Death itself is 
a common theme. “ His life is like the sun sinking over the mountain ” ; 
“ his chin has taken on the smell of the Merciful One ”, And there is a 
macabre note of humour in the comment on a man long dead : “ He has worn 
out seven shrouds.” In the face of this pessimism it is hardly surprising that 
many proverbs urge patience, submission to fate, acceptance of things as they 
are, making the best of circumstances — and even an optimistic belief that good 
will come out of bad, that every mans life is guided by a lucky star. 

In the ant’s house the dew is a flood. 

A slight loss is a great one to a poor man. 

Let the thief who strikes at the end of the ni^ht strike at its 
heginning. 

If bad fortune is in store for us, then let it- come at once. 

One hump on top of another. 

The story goes that one night a hunchback went into a public bath, 
and found a fairy wedding in progress. He at once joined the festivi- 
ties, and so entertained the company by Iris comic antics that they took 
his hump away from him, and placed it on a shelf. This story spread 
B II 


12 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


round, the town the following day, and another hunchback decided 
to profit by his friend’s experience. Unfortunately he omitted to 
notice that the gathering of fairies on this occasion was for the purpose 
of mourning, and the latter were so incensed at Ihs unseemly behaviour 
that, instead of taking his hump away, they fastened the other one on 
top of it. The phrase is now used of anyone who, whether through 
his own fault or not, finds yet anodier difficulty added to his former 
ones. 

He sheltered from the rain under the drain^^^pipe. 

He got out of the well and fell into the pit. 

He escaped from the thief s clutches^ and was caught hy the 
fortuneteller . 

Three of many proverbs comparable to our own “ He fell out of 
the frying pan into the fire.” 

You haven t the power to give me a donkey, hut you^re quite clever 
enough to kill me. 

According to a Bakhtiyari tale, a woodcutter was plodding along 
with a heavy load on Iris back. At length he dropped it on the 
ground, and, throwing hitnself weardy down, began to bewail his 
fate. “ O God,” he cried, “ either send me a donkey or send me 
deatli!” Just at that moment a huge boulder came roUhig down the 
mountain-side and landed a few feet from him. “ So ! ” he exclaimed 
in fear and anger, “You haven’t the power to give me a donkey, 
but you’re quite clever enough to kiU me ! ” A similar story is to be 
found in Aesop and Lafontaine. The proverb, like the following one, 
is used by Persians when someone has hoped for good and receives 
harm. 

Of all the prophets you would choose Jerjis. 

Jerjis is the Oriental counterpart to the Christian St. George. One 
day a mouse was caught by a cat, and finding itself held tightly 



THE FLEETING WORLD 


13 


between the creature’s teeth, bethought himself of a trick. “ O most 
noble cat,” he cried, “ O lion of courage and bravery, I am fearful for 
your fate in the next world if you shed my blood unlawfully. I urge 
you dierefore, before you swallow me, to pronounce the name of one 
of the prophets, so that you may be absolved of all guilt.” The cat, 
however, was a wily one, and saw through the mouse’s plan ; if he 
were to open his mouth to speak, the mouse would escape. But by 
pronouncing the name “Jerjis”, he was able not only to keep his 
teeth clenched, but to thrust them right through the mouse’s body. 
Hence the latter’s woeful exclamation. 

Stones rcfin upon a broken door. 

Wherever there is a stone, a lame foot will find it. 

Ifs the lame foot that has the tight shoe. 

In other words, “ It never rams but it pours.” 

No colour is deeper than black. 

Things couldn’t be any worse. 

When water covers the head, a hundred fathoms are as one. 

That is to say, “ As well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.” Compare 
the following : 

The drowning man is not troubled by rain. 

This proverb is found in Arabic, Turkish and Armenian as well as 
Persian, and is used by Sa'di in several places. 

A stick has two ends. 

Every affair may turn out well or badly. 

If fortune turns against you, even the horse in the stable becomes 
a donkey. 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


14 

If fortune turns against you, even jelly breaks your tooth. 

Even a melon>'Seed may come between husband and wife. 

A min or incident may change the course of desthiy. 

Even the handsome Ahmad caught smalUpox. 

No one is safe from the changes and chances of fate. 

The arrow that has left the bow never returns. 

Words once spoken caimot be recalled. 

He who puffs at the lamp of God will singe his beard, 

It is no use strivmg against the decrees of God. This proverb is 
based on a passage in the Koran (Ixi. 8), and is also found in the 
Masnavi of Jalal ad-Din Rumi and the mystical poetry of Sana'i. 

God drives the vessel where he will, no matter how the captain 
rants. 

A verse from the Golestan of Sa‘di. 


Death is a camel that lies down at every door. 

When its time has arrived, the prey comes to the hunter. 

A verse from Jami, to be compared with the following verse from 
Naser-e IChosrou : “ When the camel is about to die, it comes to 
the edge of the well.” 

Jump once, little locust, jump twice, but the third time you^ll be 
caught. 

Don’t tempt providence too often. This proverb occurs in the 
middle of a rather lengthy story concerning a carpenter who, dirough 
a lucky guess, discovered the princess’s lost rmg and found himself 


THE FLEETING WOULD 


15 

appointed, as the king’s fortune-teller. He bluffed his way success- 
fully through the next problem that he had to solve, and then one 
day he had to accompany the king on a hunting expedition. On 
the way a locust hopped on to the king’s saddle ; he flicked it away, 
but it jumped back again. The same thing happened again, and the 
third time the khig grabbed it in his hand, and keeping his fist clenched 
sent for the fortune-teller, who was at the back of the cavalcade. 
“ What have I got in my hand ? ” he asked. The fortune-teller, 
terrified out of his wits, could only think of his two previous lucky 
escapes, and cried out, “Jump once, little locust, jump twice, but the 
third time you’ll be caught.” The king was amazed at his powers, 
and lavished rewards upon liim. Nevertheless the experience was too 
much for the humble carpenter, who found some pretext to leave the 
court, and escaped to a distant land, never to return. 

Death comes once and sorrow hut once. 

Said to someone who continues to lament over past disasters, even 
when the excuse for it is past. 

Patience is the key to all things. 

In Arabic there is a similar proverb : “ Patience is the key to 
consolation.” 

Patience is hitter, hut its fruit is sweet. 

This proverb is used several times by Sa'di. 

Let the world after death he ocean or rill. 

Let the world after death he a mosque or a synagogue. 

It will all be the same in a hundred years. 


Grief only brings more loss to your purse. 

It’s no use crying over spilt milk. 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


l6 

Let US think of tomorrow when tomorrow comes. 

Don’t meet troubles half-way. This is the first half of a verse from 
Nezami, which continues ; “ It is far better to enjoy ourselves 
to-night.” 


Woman is a torment, hut, O Goi, let no home he without 
torment ! 

Woman is a torment, hut she is worth buying with your life. 
Blessings on the first gravemhher ! 

Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know. In 
a certain city a thief made a practice of stealing the winding-sheets 
from the graves of die newly-buried dead. The outraged populace 
complained to the governor, who after lengthy investigations caught 
the diief and consigned him to prison. But he was succeeded by 
another tliief who not only stole the shrouds but treated the bodies 
in an irreverent and scurrilous manner. Hence the people’s cry from 
the heart, which has become proverbial. 

Til eat what Tve paid for, however much it croaks. 

A Lori tribesman came to town one day, and seeing some tempting 
vegetables in a shop, bought some together with some flaps of bread 
and, squatting down by the door of the mosque, began to eat them. 
It so happened that there was a frog concealed among the leaves, 
but the Lor, supposing it to be some new kind of vegetable, folded 
it into his bread and, in spite of its protests, proceeded to swallow it. 
The proverb is used by Isfaliani merchants when they have made a 
bad bargain, but insist on making the best of it. 

Jf you’ve no mother, get on with your stepmother. 

Make the best of things as they are. 



THE FLEETING WORLD 


17 

If you haven’t a house to fit an elephant^ don’t make friends with 
the mahout 

This verse is from Sa‘di, who has another on the same theme : 
“Either be content with your troubles, or throw your entrails to 
the crows,” that is to say, by trying to escape from your present 
troubles, you may expose yourself to somethiog worse. 

No lamp hums till morning. 

Nothing lasts for ever, perfect happiness is impossible. 

Behind every smile lie two hundred tears. 

The meaning is similar to the last, but it is interesting to note the 
reversed form of it quoted below (page 18). 

He most values safety who experiences danger. 

The story of this proverb occurs in the Golestan of Sa‘di, and 
relates how a king, while on a sea-voyage, noticed a Persian slave who, 
never having been at sea before, was making a great commotion 
and refusing to be reassured. A wise man on the ship offered to cure 
him, and succeeded in doing so by throwing lum into the sea and 
allowing loim to sink beneath the water several times before dragging 
him out by the hair. After this experience the slave gave no more 
trouble. 

Gruel is better than nothing. 

Half a loaf is better than no bread. 

Even loss can he a profit 

Many popular tales centre round the character of Molla Nasr ^ 
ad-Din, who may be said to represent the rustic combination of 
stupidity and simple logic. One of his practices, it is said, was to 
buy eggs at nine for a penny and sell tliem at ten for a penny. When 
asked why he did this, he replied, “ Even loss can be a profit,” mean- 
ing that at least people would know that he was in business. The 
proverb is used to console someone who has suffered a heavy loss. 


i8 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


The Mind want only eyes. 

People say this to a man when they at last give him something for 
which he has been asking. 

Hope is horn of despair. 

Every tear has a smile behind if. 

Rumi caps this with the line : “He who sees through to the end 
is the happiest of mortals,” 

Whatever happens is good. 

It’s all for the best, “ The gifts of God arc good.” (Arabic.) 

Some heads have little sustenance, hut there are none without any. 

There's always bread for an open mouth. 

A molla was expatiating from the pulpit on the delights of paradise, 
and was describing in some detail the charms of the countless huris 
who would greet and minister to the faithful on their arrival. At 
length a voice came from among the women, “ And what about 
us?” The molla looked in their direction and replied, “Don’t 
worry. There’s always bread for an open mouth.” Said in order 
to comfort those who complain of their hard lot. 

Man lives on hope. 

A broken hand works, but not a broken heart. 

Don’t give way to despair. 

An apple thrown into the air will turn a thousand times before 
it reaches the ground. 

It was related of Chengiz Khan that, whenever he went out hunting, 


THE FLEETING WORLD 


19 


he had a hundred prisoners beheaded before the gates of the city, no 
doubt with the idea of propitiating the gods and securing a good day’s 
sport. On one occasion the prisoners were headed by a wise old man 
who, when the sword was about to fall, dodged to one side and threw 
himself on the ground. Chengiz said angrily, “ You foolish old man, 
how can you expect to escape, loaded down with chains as you are ? 
Why don’t you accept your fate at once, instead of trying to dodge ? ” 
“ They say,” answered the old man calmly, “ that an apple thrown 
into the air will turn a thousand times before it reaches the ground. 
How am I to know that in that short space of time something might 
not happen to save me from death? ” Chengiz angrily took a large 
ruby, the size of an apple, from his pocket and threw it into the air, 
saying, “ Do you really think that something can happen before this 
ruby reaches the ground ? ’ ’ Hardly were the words out of his mouth 
when the heavy ruby struck his horse’s head, the horse reared, and 
Chengiz was thrown heavily to the ground and killed. His retinue, in 
terror of their lives now that their master was gone, took to their 
heels, and the prisoners returned in triumph to the city. 

Escape may lie hetween this pillar and that. 

An innocent man was condemned to death by an unjust governor, 
and when the executioner had bound him to a pillar and was about to 
cut olfhis head, the victim begged that he might be bound to die next 
pillar instead. The executioner laughed at him, saying, “ What can 
you hope to gain from so brief an interval? You might just as well 
let me finish ray job.” But eventually he gave way to the man’s 
entreaties ; and while he was engaged in untying him and fastening 
him to the next pillar, the king chanced to pass by and asked the 
meaning of the large crowd that had gathered. On being told, he 
sent for the condemned man, who was able to convince him of his 
innocence, and so escaped death. 

God gives pain, and also gives the cure. 

There is a cure for every ill. 


20 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


May God always Mess us with such evil! 

A pious man bought a cow in the market and set out for his home. 
He was followed by a thief who planned to steal liis cow. On the 
way the thief fell in with another man who revealed himself as a 
demon who planned to take the pious man’s life. As they drew near 
to the latter’s house, where the cow was now tied up, it occurred to 
the thief that if the demon killed the pious man first, his family might 
be aroused, and it would be impossible to steal the cow. At the same 
time the demon thought that, if the thief stole the cow first, the pious 
man would be awakened by its bellowing, and so would escape death. 
Each began to ask the other to wait and take second place, and 
eventually they came to blows. The thief began to shout, “ O pious 
man, here is a demon who has come to take your life ! ” while the 
demon shouted back, “ O pious man, here is a thief who has come to 
steal your cow ! ” In the end the man and his family were aroused, 
the thief and the demon took to their heels, and the pious man drew 
the above moral for the benefit of his family. 

He who has a lucky star sleeps on his hack 

A lucky man may do as he likes. 



2 . PRACTICAL WISDOM 


Many Persian proverbs urge one to have a sense of proportion, not to take 
things too seriously. “ Don’t make a rope of a hair,” we are told; after all, 
“ Heaven will not get a hole in it Be practical; “ two half donkey-loads 
make no more than a whole one ”, in other words, it is six of one and half 
a dozen of the other. Don’t go to extremes, “ don’t he as salty as that, or 
as tasteless as this”. The good business man is admired; indeed, “the 
merchant is the friend of God”. There is no discredit in looking after your 
own interests first, and the cleverer you are the better you will do this. There 
is a lot to he said for the sharp fellow who is like “ water under straw ”, who 
has “a cat under his arm ” ; it is hardly surprising that the man who has 
“ thrown out the cat from under his arm ” has not so much decided to abandon 
deceitful ways, as let the cat out of the bag. The emphasis of all the proverbs 
in this section is on caution, expediency and worldliness. 


When a hundred comes, ninety is here as well 

The whole includes the parts. The Arabs have a saying, “ When 
the sun rises, there is no need of the moon.” 


An elephant alive costs a hundred tumans, hut so does a dead one. 

Don’t complain of minor faults in something. 

Stretch your foot to the length of your hlanket. 

In other words, cut your coat according to your cloth. This 
proverb is very popular in both Persian and Arabic literature, and has 
been used by many of the great poets, including Hafez, Attar, Naser-e 
Khosrou and Asadi. 


Eat little, sleep sound. 

Waste not, want not. 


21 


22 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


An ear of corn has only one heal 

Don’t expect too much. 

Don't take a hite too hi^ for your mouth. 

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. 


You can only £et meat from the side of a cow. 

You must only expect something from the man who has the power 
to do it. 

Carpentry is no trade for a monkey. 

Threshing corn is no task for a £oat. 

It's the bird with the hooked heak that eats millet. 

These three are all similar to our “ Let the cobbler stick to his last.” 
The second is a verse from Sa'di and continues, “ It requires an ox and 
a hardened man.” The story of the first is to be found in the Anuor-e 
Soheili, a later version of the KalilS va Demni referred to in the Intro- 
duction, and runs as follows : A monkey was watching a carpenter 
at work, and noticed that, as he sawed through the length of a log of 
wood, he would put wedges one after the other into the crack in 
order to hold the sides apart and make room for the saw. When the 
carpenter had gone, the monkey slipped into his place, and proceeded 
to take out the wedge that was in place without inserting another 
further down the crack. The two halves of the timber sprang 
together and caught the monkey’s tail. In pain and despair he cried 
out, “ I should have stuck to my own task of picking fruit,” but there 
was no escape, and when the carpenter returned later he caught and 
killed him. 

Don't sleep in a troubled place, and you won't dream a troubled 
dream. 


PRACTICAL WISDOM 


23 

Beware of a rickety wall, a savage do^, and a quarrelsome woman. 

The first condition of safety is caution. 

Walls have mice and mice have ears. 

The Arabs have a saying, “ If you talk by night, lower your voice, 
and if you talk by day, keep your eyes open.” 

Dont jump into the water where there is no ford. 

Dont cut without measuring. 

Look before you leap. A Kurdish proverb says, “ First see the 
mother, and then ask for her daughter’s hand.” 

Hearing is never as good as seeing. 

From truth to falsehood is no more than four fingers. 

Four fingers, that is to say, the distance between eye and ear. The 
meaning is, of course, the same as the preceding. 

He who has been bitten by a snake fears a piece of string. 

A burnt child dreads the fire. 


Use your enemy's hand to catch a snake. 

To avoid disfavour, follow the crowd. 

When in Rome, do as Rome does. The story goes that the whole 
population of a certain city were suddenly afflicted with madness, 
with die exception of one man who had been absent at the time. 
On his return he found the whole place in confusion, with the people 
running around naked, laughing, dancing, fighting, climbing trees, and 
so on. Dumb with amazement, he sat down in a comer, when 
suddenly he was observed by one of the citizens who, seeing him 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


24 

clothed and silent, cried out to the others, “ Look ! Look ! A mad- 
man ! ” The whole crowd seized upon the unfortunate man and 
began to hurl him to and fro, shouting “ A madman ! A madman ! ” 
In despair, he tore off his clothes and began to join m the shouting, 
whereupon the crowd, seeing that he had regained his sanity, left him 
alone onqe more. 

A stone thrown at the ri^ht time is better than gold given at the 
wrong time. 

A tear in place is better than a smile out of place. 

Stone breaks stone. 

Iron smooths iron. 

Iron takes iron from the furnace. 

All have the meaning of “ diamond cuts diamond ” ; it may take 
harsh measures to achieve a desirable result. Similarly the proverb 
that follows. 

It takes a needle to get a thorn from one^s foot. 

He has eaten so many snakes that he has become a viper. 

A man who has wide experience in crime will quickly recognize 
crime in others ; he will be a thief to catch a thief 

He is partner to the thief and escort to the caravan. 

He is running with the hare and hmiting with the hounds. 

Take care to burn neither spit nor kabobs. 

Keep on good terms with both sides. 


PRACTICAL WISDOM 


25 


Don’t give thanks for your catch till you’ve eaten it. 

It is said that foxes have a habit of shaniniing dead in order to 
deceive and trap other birds and animals. A wHy crow once saw a 
fox doing this, but in order to make sure that he was really dead, 
he drew a line round the body and went away saying to himself, 
“ If the fox is stdl inside the line to-morrow, I will know that he is 
really dead.’* As soon as he had gone, the fox got up, but early 
next morning he returned and lay down as before inside the line. 
The crow, seeing him still there, came up in all confidence, but 
before he could peck out the fox’s eyes, he was seked. Seeing no 
chance of escape, he said to the fox, “ I have no objection to your 
eating me, but you should at least say grace first.” The fox opened 
his mouth to give thanks to God, and the crow flew off. Notice 
the similarity and contrast between this story and the one on 
page 12. 


Don’t sell the hearskin kfore you’ve caught the hear. 

Two friends went out bear-hunting. For four days they saw 
nothing, and each night tliey slept in a nearby village, pledging the 
bear’s skin against the cost of their lodging. On the fiftla day a huge 
bear appeared, and Ali said nervously to his friend, “ I don’t mind 
confessing that I’m afraid to take on this bear.” Hasan laughed and 
retorted, ” I’ve always known that you were incapable of taking on 
a cock, let alone a bear. Just you leave him to me.” So Ali 
scrambled like lightnmg up the nearest tree, and Hasan stood with his 
gun at the ready. The bear came lumbering on, and Hasan began 
to grow more and more scared. At length he raised his gun to his 
shoulder, but by now he was trembling so much that, before he could 
take proper aim, his gun went off and missed the target. Hasan, 
remembering that bears never touch a dead body, threw himself 
flat and held his breath. The bear came up, snuffed all round him 
and finally made off. Ali, who had been watching the whole affair 
from his tree, now came down and, congratulating Hasan on his 
escape, asked him, “What did die bear whisper in your ear?” 


26 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


“ Oh,” replied Hasan, ” he told me never to sell the bear’s skin before 
I’d caught the bear.” 

Aesop has a similar story with a different moral. 

A thief is a kin£ till he's caught. 

They count the chickens in autumn. 

Wait and see how things turn out. By autumn many of the spring 
chickens will have been lost. 

Don't lose your head like the dog in the story. 

A dog stole a piece of meat from a butcher’s shop and ran off. 
In order to escape the butcher, he jumped into a river and began to 
swim across. In mid-river he suddenly caught sight of his own re- 
flection, and supposing it to be another dog with a piece of meat, 
opened his mouth to grab this new prize. The meat fell from his 
jaws and was carried away by the stream. Thus the proverb advises 
one not to give up the substance for the shadow. 

He lost a camel and went after its saddle. 

He worries about trifles and ignores fundamentals. 

All's not a walnut that's round. 

Not every bearded man's your father. 

All is not gold that glitters. 

A single rose does not mean spring. 

Persians also use the expression, ” One swallow does not make a 
summer.” 

Trust in God, hut tie your camel. 

One day the Prophet’s camel was lost, and only recovered after 
a long search. The Prophet asked his groom, ” Why didn’t you tie 
back the camel’s knee ^ when you left it to rest? ” “I didn’t tie it 
1 Camels in the desert are normally fastened in this way. 


PRACTICAL. WISDOM 


27 

because I put my trust in God,” answered the groom, “ Both, tie 
and trust,” replied the Prophet. Originally an Arabic proverb and 
story, the Persian form is taken from the Masnavi of Jalal ad-Din 
Rumi. 

Necessity turns lion into fox. 

Necessity turns even the noblest men into deceivers. This also 
is a verse from Rumi’s Masnavi. 

The lamp in the home is not for the mosque. 

Charity begins at home. 

A fruit that hangs out of the garden will he stoned hy every 
passerby. 

Don’t expose your family and property to the depredations of 
others. 

Look after your money and donH make your neighbour a thief 

Don’t put temptation in the way of others. 

An account is an account and a brother a brother. 

Never mind about brotherhood, goats are joo dinars apiece. 
Where business is concerned, personal relations must not enter. 
The Arabs say, “ Live together like brothers and do business like 
strangers.” 

They- tie up an ass where his master wishes. 

He who rents his room lives as he pleases. 

He who pays the piper calls the tune. 

Gold brings gold, lack of gold a headache, 

c 


28 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


Oil adds to oil hut groats remain dry. 

A slap in hand is better than a gift to come. 

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. So also : 

Vinegar in hand is better than halva to come. 

The druM'^corps camel is not frightened by the noise. 

Nader’s drum was fastened on his hack. 

Both these proverbs imply that the man will not be frightened by 
someone’s empty threats, for he has heard plenty of them before. 
Accordmg to the first story, a child was left to guard a field of com, 
and had before him a drum which he beat repeatedly m order to scare 
away birds and other beasts. It so happened that one of the camels 
of Soltan Mahmud’s drum corps had strayed, and wandered into the 
field in search of fodder. The child beat his drum with all his might, 
but the camel would not go ; and a passer-by remarked, “ You are 
‘ beating cold iron ’, you are wasting your time, for he is a drum-corps 
camel, and his eyes and ears are full of such sounds.” In the second 
story, a camel which had formerly carried the drum of the conqueror 
Nader Shall lost its way and wandered into die yard of m old widow. 
The widow tried to frighten him away by beating on a large brass 
tray, but the camel said, “ We are not afraid, we have seen plenty of 
this sort of thing, for once Nader’s drum was fastened to our back.” 

Rain will not come at the prayer of a black cat. 

We came at no one’s biddings and we go at no one’s curse. 
Both these expressions may be used as a retort to someone who 
abuses you, implying that his words will have no effect. 

You don’t feed a donkey sugar and greens. 

Why cast pearls before swine ? Compare : 


PRACTICAL WISDOM 


29 

Why play music for a deaf man, or dance for a blind man ? 

Sweep clean the house of your friends, hut dont knock at the 
door of your foe. 

The following story comes from the Golestan of Sa'di. A poor 
man stole a rug from the house of his friend. The governor ordered 
his hand to be cut olF,^ but his friend interceded for him, saying 
“ I have forgiven him.” Replied the governor, “ I caimot stretch 
the limits of the law for the sake of your intercession.” “ You are 
right,” replied the friend, “ but no one who steals vaqf (reHgious) 
property is liable to have his hand cut off, and since the poor own 
nothing, anythmg that they have is a vaqf for those who need it.” 
The governor revoked the thief’s punishment and rebuked him, 
saying, “ What possessed you to steal from the house of a sincere 
friend hke tliis? ” “ Your Honour,” replied the thief, ” have you 
not heard that one may sweep clean the house of a friend, but shouldn’t 
even knock at the door of a foe ? ” 

A sponsor will he caught hy the purse or caught hy the collar. 

It is not worth while to go surety for anyone. 

If you die for someone, see that he has a fever for you. 

Have some practical purpose in putting yourself out for anyone. 

Show him death, and hell he content with fever. 

If you propose harsh conditions to someone, he will gladly agree 
to what you really want. 

Donf judge a pepper'^corn hy its smallness, crack it and see how 
sharp it is. 

An insignificant-looking man may have sharp wits. 

1 The traditional punishment for theft. 


30 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


He extends as far beneath -the earth as he does above. 

This comment is also applied to a small but clever man. 

It is better for an ant to have win^s. 

The Arabic version runs, “ If God had wanted to destroy the ant, 
he would have given it wings.” In other words, it is better for a sly 
fellow to keep to his own methods, and not to imitate those greater 
or more powerful than himself. 


5 . FORESIGHT AND SELF-RELIANCE 

Several proverbs in the previous section urged self-reliance and independence, 
and in this section the theme is continued. He who wishes to “ mount his 
donkey ”, “ to take it across the bridge ”, in other words, to put his affairs in 
order and achieve his aim, must have foresight and must be prepared to expend 
effort and suffer pain. If he does this, he will undoubtedly “pull his blanket 
out of the water ” ; he may even “ hit two targets with one arroiv ”, or if you 
prefer it, “ cat both from the nosebag and from the manger ”. In general, we 
are on more familiar ground here. There is less of sly cunning, more of honest 
endeavour; though as yet we do not find very much in the way of an ideal set 
up before us. That, perhaps, is to come ; in the meantime, it is enough that 
we should stand on our own feet. 

The spring may he dammed with a rod. 

This is the first half of a well-known verse from the Golestan. It 
continues, “ Let it swell to full size and you may not cross it with, an 
elephant.” In other words, a stitch in time saves nine. 

War at the beginning is better than peace at the end. 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

Make bread while the oven is hot. 

After SohraFs death the antidote. 

This proverb comes from the well-known story of Rostam and 
Sohrab, as given in the Shahnamd of Ferdousi. It will be remembered 
that Rostam unknowingly fought a duel with his son Sohrab, of 
whose existence he had not previously even been aware, and who 
was now the champion of Turan, the enemy of Iran. Sohrab was 
mortally wounded, and revealed the secret of his parenthood to his 
father. Rostam, distraught, pleaded with his sovereign Kei Kavus 

31 



PERSIAN PROVERBS 


32 

to let him have an infallible antidote from the royal treasury. The 
Icing at first refused, and when he finally agreed, it was too late. 
Both this and the proverb that follows have the meanmg of “ After 
death the doctor,” or “ Don’t shut the stable door after the horse 
has gone.” Compare : 

An antidote from distant Iraq will not cure a deadly snakebite. 

If you have no door, why have a doorman ? 

He whose wife dies siyhs for a sister4nAaw. 

Said of someone who loses somethmg that he did iiot value highly 
enough. 

First diy a well and then steal a minaret. 

plan your task before you start it. The story goes that the people 
of a village near Sabzevar plotted to steal a particular minaret, and for 
this purpose took a hundred donkeys and lined them up in front of 
the minaret, and prepared to lower it on to their backs. At this 
juncture an old man asked them, “ Have you dug a well in which to 
hide it ? ” The two proverbs that follow are variations on this theme. 

First see the headman and then fleece the village. 

First build your cowshed and then buy a cow for it 

Others planted for us to eat ; now we plant for others to eat. 

Anushirvan the Just, when riding through the country-side, saw 
an old man of eighty busily employed ha planting walnut saplings. 
“ Old man,” he said, “ you know tlaat it -v^l be years before those 
saplings bear fruit. Why do you waste so much effort on something 
that you can never share? ” “ Sire,” replied the old man, “ others 
planted for us to eat, now we plant for others to eat.” The king was 



I 

i 

FORESIGHT AND SELF-RELIANCE 33 

* pleased with this answer and gave the old man a hundred ashrajis. 

“ Sire,” said the old man, “ others planted for us to eat ; we too 

planted for others to eat, but we did not die, and so we ourselves ate.” 
The king was even more pleased at this, and gave him another hundred 
ashrajis. “ Sire,” continued the old man, “ others planted for us to 
eat ; we planted for others to eat, but we not only lived and ate our- 
I selves, we even left something for our posterity to eat in comfort.” 

I The king was delighted with this answer, and gave the old man yet 

another hundred ashrajis. “ Sire,” began the old man — but at this 
juncture the king’s chief minister, Bozorgmehr, interrupted. “Let 
us leave, Your Majesty, for if we expose ourselves much longer to the 
ready wit of this astute old man, the royal treasury will soon be 
empty.” The proverb as used encourages one to look ahead and to 
plan for the future. 

What is cheaply found is despised. 

I • What is brought hy the wind will he carried away hy the wind. 

' One day the wind blew a cotton-seed into a sparrow’s nest. He 

! asked his neighbour what it was, and he replied, “ If you sow this, 

it will produce a pod, the pod will produce cotton, the cotton wiU be 
I spun into thread, the thread will be woven into cloth, the cloth will 

be dyed and sewn up into coats for you and me.” The sparrow took 
the seed to a peasant in a field, saying, “ Sow ! Sow! Sow this 
seed I Half for me and half for you.” The peasant did so, and 
when after a while the plant came up and the pods were ripe, he 
divided them between himself and the sparrow. The sparrow took 
his share to the sphmer, saying, “ Spin ! Spin 1 Spin this cotton 1 
' Half for me and half for you.” The spinner did so and gave the 

sparrow his share. The sparrow took the thread to the weaver, 
saying, “ Weave ! Weave 1 Weave this thread 1 Half for me and 
half for you.” The weaver did so and gave the sparrow his share. 
The sparrow took it to the dyer, saying, “ Dye 1 Dye 1 Dye this 
cloth ! Half for me and half for you.” The dyer dyed the cloth 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


34 

briglit blue and hung it on the line to dry in the sun. When the 
sparrow saw it, he thought, “ What a beautiful colour ! It seems a pity 
to divide such a fine piece of cloth.” He swooped down and carried 
it off in his beak, and took it to the tailor, saying, “ Sew ! Sew ! 
Sew this cloth ! One for you and one for me.” So the tailor made 
two beautiful coats and hung them on a peg. The sparrow thought, 
“ It seems a pity to give such a fine coat to the tailor. I’ll take both 
for myself” So he snatched the two coats and took them to the 
moUa, saying, “ O molla, I wish to leave these two coats in trust with 
you, until such time as the weather gets colder. In return, one shall 
be for you, and one for me.” The molla agreed, but to himself he 
thought, “ It seems a pity to give one of these coats to this ridiculous 
sparrow. I’ll keep both for myself.” When the winter came, the 
sparrow came for his coat, but the molla claimed ignorance. ” If you 
are cold, I will pray for you,” he said. The sparrow flew off angrily, 
but from a distance he saw the molla washing the two coats and hang- 
ing them on the line. So when he was praying, the sparrow flew 
down and snatched the two coats, and took them to the bazaar to sell 
for food. On the way a storm blew up and whipped the two coats 
out of the sparrow’s beak. No matter how he tried, he could not 
recover them. The wind carried them away and dropped one before 
the tailor and the other before the dyer. So justice was done. 

Unless you take pains you will never acquire wealth. 

Whoever needs a peacock must put up with a journey to India. 
He who wants a rose must respect the thorn. 

You will eat no more stew than you pay for. 

I will only card cotton to the amount of your buttermilk. 

You cannot expect something for nothing. Every gain requires 
an effort of some kind. 


FORESIGHT AND SELF-RELIANCE 


35 


You must start hy night to arrive hy day. 

To walk and sit is better than to run and hurst. 

The well-known story of the hare and the tortoise is often told 
support of this proverb. Sa'di also has a story in his Golestan, 
which he relates how, when a young man, he had been hurrying 
day, and by evenhig was so exhausted that he could do no more than 
throw himself down against a bank at the side of the road. A feeble 
old man, who was following the caravan at leisure, said, “ Why are 
you sitting? Get up, for this is no place to sleep.” “ How can I,” 
I replied, “when I have no strength to walk?” “Haven’t you 
heard,” said the old man, “ that it is better to walk and sit than to 
run and burst?” 

Drops that gather one hy one finally become a sea. 

A verse from Naser-e Khosrou. 

You must climb a ladder step by step. 

A hasty man does his work twice over. 

Compare the Arabic “ Haste is from the Devil.” 

From fear of the porridge he fell into the pot. 

More haste, less speed. 

This is no task to be dipped in and out of a dye^uat. 

Take your time over a task if you want to do it properly. 

First raise this one child that you. have borne. 

Don’t turn to another task before you have finished the first. 

You can^t get raisins without unripe grapes. 

Don’t pass OR tQ the last stages of a task before completing the firsts 




36 PERSIAN PROVERBS 

Soft words will get the snake out of its hole. 

Gentle methods are best. 

The seeker at last becomes the finder. 

With patience you may make halva from unripe grapes. 

By constantly asking one can reach China. 

Where there’s a will there’s a way. 

Unless the child cries, how will it get milk ? 

A camel that wants fodder stretches out its neck. 

Those who don’t ask don’t get. 

God is the Provider, hut he needs a nudge. 

In other words, God helps those who help themselves. Two 
friends were disputing, one of them maintaining that God would 
provide all one’s needs, the other arguing that one had to work for 
one’s living. At length, to settle the matter, the first man went and 
sat in a comer of the mosque to wait his sustenance from God. Two 
days passed, and then tliree, and still nothing came from earth or 
heaven. But on the evenhig of the third day three villagers came 
into the mosque to eat their bread and cheese. As they were pack- 
ing up the remainder of the food before leaving, our friend, seeing his 
last chance about to disappear, coughed gently. The villagers 
noticed him and, taking pity on his haggard appearance, gave him the 
remains of their food. The man went back to his friend in all 
humility. “God is indeed the Provider,” he admitted, “but he 
needs a nudge.” 

Go and wake up your luck. 

The same idea as the preceding. According to popular beHef, a 
man s luck is personified by a man who sleeps from time to time. 


FORESIGHT AND SELF-RELIANCE 


yi 

A widely known story relates how there were two brothers, one rich 
and one poor. The latter tried one night to steal some of his brother’s 
wheat, and was prevented by a man who turned out to be his brother’s 
luck. This man told the poor brother that his luck was asleep on the 
top of a distant mountain, and advised him to go and wake him. On 
the way the brother met a lion, a horse and a tree (according to one 
version), all of whom posed questions for his luck to solve. He 
eventually found his luck, woke him, and got the answers to liis three 
questions. The tree and the horse were satisfied with what they were 
told, but the lion had asked, “ Why is it that, however much I eat, 
I am never satisfied?” The answer was that he should eat the 
brains of the most foolish man he could find. The lion looked at 
the brother and exclaimed, “ I have never seen anyone as foolish as 
you,” and promptly tore him in pieces. 

A Jish taken from the water is always fresh. 

It’s never too late to mend. 


No one scratches my hack hut my own finger ‘'nail. 

If you want a job well done, do it yourself. Compare the three 
following. 

The masters eye has its own effect. 

A man went on a journey and left his favourite horse in the care of 
an old friend. The friend gave his grooms mstructions to pay special 
attention to this horse, but in spite of this it languished from the first. 
He began to give it personal attention, but even tliough he spent all 
his time in the stable, the horse continued to waste away. He sent 
for the best horse-doctors, but all to no avail. It was all the more 
surprising because his own horse, though he neglected it, was fat and 
flourishing. Eventually the horse’s owner returned from Iris journey. 
His friend confessed with shame that, in spite of all his care, die horse 
was sick and wasting. The owner smiled and replied, “ Didn’t you 
know that the master’s eye has its own effect ? ” 


38 PERSIAN PROVERBS 

A mother hums her heart, a nurse her apron. 

The more closely you are concerned with something, the more 
trouble you take over it. 

If I had been there, she would have had a son. 

A man from the village of Sedeh near Isfahan went on a journey, 
and on his return was greeted with the news that his wife had borne 
him a daughter. “ If I had been there,” he grumbled, “ she would 
have had a son.” 

He who sits and waits for his neighbour will sleep hungry. 

Every man is king in his own house. 

Four walls make a man free. 

The dog is a lion in his own house. 

Three proverbs with a similar meaning. 

He who eats the bread of his hands has no need of Hatem TaH. 
Hatem Ta ‘i was an Arab chieftain famed for his generosity. Sa'di 
tells how one day Hatem was giving a great feast to all the sheikhs 
and tribesmen in the neighbourhood and, happening to go out into 
the desert, came across a poor camel-herd. “ Haven’t you heard,” 
he asked, " that Hatem Ta'i is giving a great feast for all who wish to 
come?” The camel-herd’s reply has become proverbial. 

It is better to die a beggar than to ask for help. 

Tliis verse, like the preceding and the two following, are from 
Sa'di’s Golestan. A beggar was suffering die utmost extremities of 
hunger, and a passer-by said to him, " There is a man in this city who 
is renowned for his generosity. Why don’t you go to him, for when 
he knows of your plight he will be sure to help you ? ” The beggar’s 



FORESIGHT AND SELF-RELIANCE 39 

reply, as a proverb, suggests that one should not be under an obligation 
to another. 

One mm honoured in death is better than a hundred living in shame. 

To die with honour is better than to Hue in disgrace. 

A courageous man received a terrible wound hi the wars against 
the Tatars. He was told that a certain great man possessed a potent 
medicine ; however, this person was notorious for his avarice. The 
wounded man replied, “ If I ask for the medicine, he may or may not 
give it ; and if he gives it, it may. or may not benefit me. Begging 
from him would itself be poison, for whatever you beg from the mean 
may fatten your body, but it will detract from your honour.” 


4. VIRTUE ITS OWN REWARD 

Our next section starts with the theme that virtue is its own reward. 
Emphasis, however, is on the personal aspect; we must do good if we wish 
to receive good, and hy extension we must cure our own faults before we 
criticize the faults of others. We are warned how easy it is to he blind to our 
own shortcomings, to be swayed by self-interest in coming to a decision. 
Justice should be based on fair shares for all; no innocent man should be 
blamed for the sins of others. Conversely, we must remember that our own 
evil actions may have repercussions on others, particularly on our own kindred. 

Good deeds return to the house of their author. 

Blood cannot he washed out with hlood. 

Two wrongs do not make a right. 

Do to me what would please you if it were done to you. 

Stick a needle into yourself before a hodkin into others. 

Cast first the beam out of thine own eye. 

She couldn't tidy her own head, hut she went to dress the hride. 
A lazy and slovenly woman, who would hardly budge from the 
comer of the room in order to fetch a jug of water, heard one day 
that a fine wedding was being held in the headman s house, and decided 
that at all costs she must go to it. Without even bothering to dress up, 
she shnffled along and sneaked into the house among die other guests. 
The hostess soon noticed her and, realizing that she was not one of 
the invited, asked her what she was doing there. “lam the lady’s 
maid,” she replied, “ I’ve come to get die bride ready for the wedding 
and to tie die kerchief round her head.” Another guest, who knew 
the woman for what she was, remarked, “ If you’re good at tying 

40 


VIRTUE ITS OWN REWARD 


41 


kerchiefs, why don’t you tie one round your own head?” The 
. implication of die proverb, like those that follow, is that one should 
attend to one’s own faults first. 

The doctor must heal his own hald head,^ 

If you mend water^hags^ go and mend your own. 

If you can sing lullahies, send yourself to sleep. 

He was thrown out of the pillage, and he claimed the headmans 
house. 

This proverb and the one that follows point to the unwisdom of 
trying to carry out a major task when you have proved incapable of 
completing a small one. 

He who has no bread doesn^t eat an onion. 

An onion, that is, to stimulate his appetite. 

No one sees his own faults. 

Everyone sees his own image in the water ; the farmer sees rain, 
the washerman sun. 

Everyone sees what he wants to see. 


The elephant dreams one thing, the elephanUdriver another. 

Everyone thinks of himself; even the thin4eard thinks of his 
heard. 

1 In Persia and many other parts of the Middle East baldness is the result 
of a scalp disease. 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


42 

He who goes to the qazi done returns happy. 

A judge who hears only one side of the case cannot decide im~ 
partially. Similar thoughts are to he found in maity of the great 
poets, particularly Nezami, Attar, Naser-e Kliosrou and Rumi. 

His verdict is like that of the qazi of Balkh. 

Our donkey never had a tail! 

These two proverbs come from the same story, both being protests 
against unfair decisions. A debtor was being dragged by his creditor 
to the qazi of Balkli, and hoping to escape dashed through the open 
door of a house and up the stairs on to the roof. Unfortunately for 
him there was no other way down, and m jumping into the neigh- 
bouring yard he landed on the neighbour’s wife, who was pregnant. 
As a result she had a miscarriage, and the infuriated husband seized 
upon the debtor, who, seeing that “ when the water has covered the 
head, a htmdred fathoms are as one ”, told him to join the creditor 
and see the qazi. A little further on a runaway horse was being 
chased. The debtor, trying to be helpful, threw a stone at it, and the 
stone “ went everywhere ” until it hit the horse in the eye, blinding it. 
The owner came up in a rage, and the debtor replied, “ We are all 
on our way to the qazi ; you had better come with' us.” They came 
next to an overloaded ass that had fallen down in the mud, and its 
owner asked the four men for help. They all took hold of it, the 
debtor grasping the tail ; and as luck would have it, when he pulled, 
the tail came right off. The owner began to abuse the debtor, but 
the latter replied, “ All right, you too had better come to the qazi.” 
Finally they came to the qazCs house, and as they went in, the debtor 
secretly concealed a large stone under his coat. As he bowed to the 
qazi, he surreptitiously pointed to the bulge in his coat, implying that 
it was a purse of gold. The qazi took the hint, and then called on the 
creditor to state his case. The debtor flatly denied his claims, and 
since the creditor had no papers in support of them, the qazi sent him 
away empty-handed. Then the husband came forward and told his 
story. The qazi replied, “ Very well, this woman must go and stay 


VIRTUE IT.S OWN REWARD 


43 

in the defendant’s house until she is once more pregnant ; he must be 
liable for all her expenses, and during this period her husband must 
not come near her.” The husband protested violently against this 
decision, and finally the qazi ruled that, in consideration of a payment 
of five hundred rials by the husband to the debtor, all claims and 
1 counter-claims between them should be cancelled. Next the horse- 

i owner came forward, and the qazi said, “ Certauily the defendant 

must pay damages, but in order that we may assess them fairly, the 
horse is to be sawn in half, and the half with the sound eye sold in 
J the bazaar ; whatever price it fetches will be a fair valuation of the 

I half that the defendant has damaged.” The owner protested 

violently, and finally it was decided that the debtor should receive 
^ a sum of one hundred rials from the horse-owner and should keep 

1 ■ the horse. Meanwhile the owner of the donkey had been watching 

^ all this with growing concern, and when his turn came, he tried to 

sneak out of the court. The qazi called after him, ” Where are you 
I going, my friend? Come and state your case.” But the donkey’s 

owner replied, ” I have no complaint, your honour ; I swear that my 
donkey never had a tail, even as a colt ! ” 

r 

* 

j It's the story of the mouse and the slab of cheese. 

I Two mice one day stole a piece of cheese and, being unable to agree 
over the division of it, decided to take the case to an old cat, who had 
long since repented of her ways and given up chasing mice. “ Cer- 

I tainly,” agreed the cat, “ I will divide it fairly for you.” She took 

I I a knife and cut the cheese into two unequal halves. She then placed 

[ « them m the scales and, finding that they did not balance, cut a piece 

¥ off the larger and swallowed it. It was now the other half that was 

too heavy, and so she repeated the process. This went on until 
[. finally there was only a tiny piece left in one of the scales. “ And 

[; this,” she said, gobbling it up, “is my fee!” 

E 

, One roof and two climates ! 

Another proverb on the subject of unfair discrimination. It is 

I D 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


44 

generally said that mothers-in-law are well-disposed to their sons-in- 
law and ill-disposed to their daughters-in-law. It so happened that 
a mother was liviag in the same house as her son and daughter and 
tlieir respective wife and husband. It was towards the end of summer, 
and people were stdl sleeping on the roof at night. One night the 
mother woke, and as it seemed that the night had turned a litde cold, 
she went over to her sleepmg daughter and her husband and pulled 
the quilt over them, saying, “ The night has turned a little cold, you 
must be careful of yourselves,” Then she went over to her son and 
daughter-in-law and pulled back the covers, saying, “ You really 
shouldn’t use so many bedclothes in this hot weather, you will make 
yourselves ill.” Her daughter-in-law, who had been awake and 
heard all that had passed, cried out in astonisliment, “ Good heavens, 
one roof and two climates ! That side is cold and this is hot.” 

The mtlUwheel turns. 

First come, first served ; turn and turn about. The image is taken 
from peasants bringing their grain to the mill to be ground. 

Injustice all round is justice. 

Compare the Arabic, ” Evil is good if it is shared.” 

This is the shrine that we huilt together. 

A certain dervish had a group of followers, one of whom per- 
sistently refused to recognize his authority. One day they were in 
a remote part of die desert, and while the other disciples were pre- 
paring a meal, the rebellious one was amusing himself in burying the 
bones of a donkey that he had found there. The dervish watched 
liim for a while, and then came over and helped him to build a mound 
and place a stone over the spot, so that it looked like a real grave. 
Then he asked the rebellious disciple, “ Are you ready yet to acknow- 
ledge my authority? ” “ No,” replied the disciple. So the dervish 
called his other followers togedier and told them to tie him up against 
the mound that they had built. “ We shall leave you here,” he said. 



VIRTUR ITS OWN REWARD 


45 

“ tlie wild beasts will come and devour you, and finally some travellers 
will find you and bury you in this grave together with that unclean 
donkey.” Then they went off, and the unfortunate disciple was left 
there in fear and trembling. At last with a great effort he worked 
liimself up against the stone on top of die grave, and by dint of 
rubbing managed to cut through the cord that bound his hands. Just 
at that moment he heard the bells of a distant caravan and, lighting 
a torch, he stood on top of the mound and finally attracted the atten- 
tion of the merchants. “ What are you doing in this desolate place ? ” 
they asked in amazement as they came up. “Three days ago,” 
replied the youth, “ I came to this tomb and lay down to rest. In my 
dreams I saw a revered sayed who said, ‘ This grave is the grave of one 
of the martyrs of our family, who suffered death in this desert. You 
who have foimd your way here must spare no effort to preserve it 
from destruction.’ So here I have remained for three days and nights 
braving all hardsliips.” The merchants, impressed witli the youth’s 
piety and devotion, each gave him food and money, and went on their 
way. Soon the news spread throughout the neighbouring villages 
and towns, and pilgrims began to come from far and wide to the 
newly-discovered tomb, bringing gifts of all kinds. Before long the 
youth was able to have a dome built over the grave, and after two or 
three years the whole face of the desert was changed, with mosques, 
shrines and cloisters, and a fine palace and servants for the youth him- 
self, who now styled himself the “ Custodian of the Shrine ”. Seven 
years passed, and by chance the same dervish came with his followers 
to that spot, and was astonished at the change that had taken place. 
The Custodian observed and recognized them, and ordered that they 
should be lavishly entertained for a week. On the eighth day the 
Custodian liimself came to the dervish’s lodging, but though the 
dervish recognized his face, he could not tliink where he had met him 
before. The Custodian gradually worked the conversation round to 
his own story, and related how he had come there seven years before 
with a dervish, how they had camped tliere, and how he and the 
dervish “ had built this shrme together ”. The dervish at last recog- 
nized his former disciple and, falling on his knees, begged forgiveness. 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


46 

The proverb is generally used nowadays by someone who feels that his 
partner in an undertakmg is trying to take all the profit. 

The donkey works and the horse eats. 

The cameU driver reaps where the muleteer sowed. 

Two proverbs used when one person does all the work and someone 
else takes all the profit or credit. 

He couldnt manage the ass, so he pilfered its saddle. 

Said when someone takes out his anger with a powerful man on 
someone weaker than himself. 


Every month is dangerous, hut Safar has the had name. 

Safar, the second of the Moslem months, is regarded as particularly 
unlucky. In Bedouhi times fighting was forbidden during the three 
preceding months, and hence, a great many men generally lost their 
lives in the renewed hostilities of Safar. It is also said that nine- 
tentlos of all diseases come during Safar. The proverb is equivalent 
to “ Give a dog a bad name . . .” 

Money ^oes to one place, suspicion to a thousand. 

When one person steals, many innocent men may be suspected. 

They dont unload the caravan for one lame donkey. 

They don*t close the mosque for one menstruating woman.''- 

They don’t set the hazaar on fire for a handkerchief 

A haberdasher’s apprentice was just closing the shop for the day, 
when his sweetheart came in for a chat. She noticed on the shelf two 

1 A menstruating woman may not pray. 


VIRTUE ITS OWN REWARD 


47 


beautifully embroidered handkerchiefs ; “ the pot of her greed came 
to the boil”, and she begged the apprentice to give them to her. 
“ I can’t do that,” he replied ; “ ordy the master may sell those ; 
it’s as much as my life is worth to touch them, for ‘ there’s a snake 
sitting on them But the girl insisted, and finally the boy agreed. 
When she had gone, he came to his senses. “ He’ll never believe me 
if I say they’re lost, and if I tell him they’re sold he’ll want the money, 
and if I say I sold them on credit he’ll answer that that’s forbidden, 
and if I say that I’ve bought them myself, where will I find the money 
to pay for them? ” Finally he betlrought himself of a mischievous 
idea ; he started a fire in the comer of the shop and, locking the door, 
hurried off. Before long the fire spread to the neighbouring shops ; 
and by the time it was discovered, it was too late to control it, and in 
the end the whole bazaar was destroyed. 

An injured hand means trouble for the neck. 

A man’s misfortunes bring grief to his relatives. 


The oppressor's wrongs fall on his children's heads. 



5 . MISERS AND SKINFLINTS 

In this section tve come to the engrossing subject of miserliness and its accom- 
panying vices of envy, covetousness and greed. Many are the stories told of 
misers; perhaps one of the most typical is of the three mho were frying to outdo 
one another. “ Tm so mean," said the first, “ that if someone knocks at the 
door when Tm about to start my supper, I hastily clear it away so that I wont 
have to share it.” “ Oh, that's nothing," retorted the second, “ that only 
means that you haven't enough to go round. Now Tm so mean that, when 
I go out to a dinner-party, I object if another guest turns up." “ That's not 
real meanness," laughed the third, “ you're just afraid that your host didn't 
know this other guest was coming, and will only have prepared food for two. 
Now Tm really mean. If someone gives me a present, I get angry with him 
for wasting his substance ! " A man like this, we are told, could “get colour 
from water ", he would “put the cat in prison ", he could “ let a fly's blood in 
the air". Even “ water will not drip from his hand". But there is a con- 
soling thought. Pride comes before a fall, and so it will be with all skinflints 
and those who oppress the poor and weak; their “ drum will be torn ", “ their 
wash-tub will fall from the roof". 

He dedicated spilt oil to the shrine. 

One day a man was passing in front of a shrine with ajar of oil in 
his hand. Suddenly it slipped, and all the oil was spilt. The man 
turned towards the shrine and called out, “ O holy saint, I dedicate 
this oil to your lamps ! ” The proverb is used of a selfish person who 
gives away something worthless. 

He gives a party with the hath-'water. 

The sheikh succumbed to the hroth. 

The headman of the village wanted the molla to endorse some 
fictitious document for him. So he invited him to diue, and in- 
structed his wife to prepare an excellent meal and to take particular 

48 


MISERS AND SKINFLINTS 


49 


care with a special kind of hrotli, of which the moUa was very fond 
since he had no teeth. The molla duly arrived, enjoyed a pipe and 
a glass of tea, and as they had expected, did full justice to the excellent 
broth. He finished off with another glass of tea and a pipe, and then 
without further ado rose to liis feet and prepared to leave. The head- 
man, greatly upset, begged and implored him to stay a little longer, 
but the molla would not hear of it and with a thousand excuses took 
his leave and departed. “ Didn’t the sheildi like the broth? ” asked 
the headman’s wife. “ Yes,” said her husband. “ Then why didn’t 
he sign the document?” “Alas,” replied the headman, “the 
sheikli succumbed to the broth.” The proverb is now used of some- 
one who is only co-operative up to the point where he has secured 
all he wants. 

What pauper basnet a tuman in his pocket ? 

A certain merchant used to send his black slave to collect his 
accoimts, but wherever he went, he would get die reply, “ I have 
no money,” and being a simple fellow he beHeved them. The 
merchant realized that, because the slave had never himself had any 
money in his pocket, he thought that everyone else was the same. 
So he gave hun a tuman' s worth of small change, and told him always 
to carry it widi liim ; and in future whenever the slave met with a 
negative response, he would answer, “ What pauper hasn’t at least 
a tuman in his pocket?” The proverb is used in reference to an 
obdurate creditor who wdl not take “ no ” for an answer. 

The " haues know nothini of the " have-nots 

The full man knows nothing of the hungry, nor the rider of the 
walker. 

He who sits on the fence is light of heart. 

Hell let it rot for the dog before he shares it with another. 

Said of a “ dog in the manger ”. 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


50 

The nei^hhou/s morsel has gooso'^jat on it. 

Other people’s possessions always seem better than one’s own. 

The Uind man is laughing at the haldhead. 

The pot is calling the kettle black, or, as the Persians themselves 
also put it, 

One pot calls another hlack 

The blind man thinks that the seeing man eats with both hands. 

Said of someone who envies odiers without clue cause. 


There are many walnuts in the qazi‘s house, but they are all 
counted. 

It is useless to envy other people’s wealth. 

The molla who Hues free ought to marry the mice in the house. 

A scrounger should do something in return for what he gets. 

No one has ever seen the leg of a snake, the eye of an ant, or 
charity from a molla. 

He wants both God and dates. 

He wants to have his cake and eat it. According to tradition, the 
Dajjal (equivalent to the Antichrist) will appear before the end of the 
world mounted on a monstrous donkey, which will drop dates in- 
stead of dung. Men will follow the Dajjal for the sake of the dates 
and will be led into Hell. 

His pot died in childbirth. 

Said of someone who suffers loss because of his greed. Molla Nasr 
ad-Din one day borrowed a pot from his neighbour, and the next day 


MISERS AND SKINFLINTS 


51 

returned it with a little pot inside. “ This little pot isn’t mine,” said 
his neighbour. “ Yes, it is,” repHed the molla, “ your pot gave birth 
to it last night.” The neighbour, a greedy man, thought to take 
advantage of Molla Nasr ad-Din’s simplicity and said no more. A 
few days later the molla borrowed the pot again ; but this time several 
days passed, and the pot was not returned. So the neighbour went 
round to ask for it ; but the molla greeted him with a long face and 
said, “ Alas ! Your pot died in childbirth.” “ What are you talking 
about?” exclaimed the angry neighbour. “Well, you weren’t 
surprised when I told you the other day that it had given birth, so 
why should you be surprised now?” 

He smells kabohs, hut it's only a roasting donkey. 

Said of someone who blunders through excessive greed. 


Even the qazi will drink free wine. 

Most men will sacrifice principle for greed. 

A hungry man has no faith. 

A man was nearly dying of hunger. The Devil came to him and 
offered him food if the man would sell him liis faith. The hmgry 
man agreed, but when he had eaten his fill he refused, saying, 
“ What I sold you when I was hungry did not exist, for a hungry 
man has no faith.” 

To the hungry wolf good cameUmeat or the Dajjal's donkey are 
all one. 

A verse from Sa‘di with a meaning similar to that of the preceding 
proverb. 

Even a single hair from a hear is profit. 

It is worth while getting anytliing from a miser. 


52 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


A fit doi would become a greyhound in his house. 

A man dined one evening at the house of the village headman ; 
but the latter was an excessively mean man, and not only gave him 
a very poor meal, but provided none of the amenities that might be 
expected from a host. A few days later the guest was present with 
a number of other elders of the village at a meeting in the headman’s 
house, when the headman caught sight of a large and well-fed stray 
dog. “ I must catch that dog,” he said, “ he will make an excellent 
watch-dog for my house.” “ For goodness’ sake don’t do that,” 
protested the guest ; “ in your house it won’t be long before he turns 
into a greyhound.” 

Dont ^et hit on the head with your basin. 

An avaricious man went one day to the public bath. Alone in the 
changing-room, he began to bemoan his hard lot and, praying to 
God, said, “ O God, before anyone else comes please fill this changing- 
room with ashrajis, tliat my wretched lot may change.” He remained 
for a few minutes with his hands raised, but no matter how long he 
dawdled over his undressing, not a single ashraji appeared. At last 
he moved on into the hot bath, and there again prayed, saying, “ O 
God, perhaps the changing-room was too large, but could you not 
at least fill this smaller room ? ” But again nothing happened, and 
he went on into a yet smaller room and offered up a similar prayer, 
but with equally little effect. Finally he came out into the courtyard 
and, filling his basin wMr water, placed it before him and prayed, ” O 
God, it seems that those three other places were too large, but could 
you not at least fill tins little basin with ashrajis ? If you won’t do 
that, then hit me on the head with it, so that at any rate, if I can’t 
enjoy your favour, I may suffer your disfavour.” It so happened 
that a mischievous fellow in the bath had overheard the whole story, 
and creeping up behind the miser he seized the basin, hit him on the 
head with it and ran off before the unfortunate man came to. The 
miser raised his hands in protest. “ O God,” he cried, “ you were 
deaf to all my appeals to fill the bath witli ashrajis, but the moment 


MISERS AND SKINFLINTS 


53 


I asked you to hit me on the head with my basin, your hearing became 
as sharp as could be ! ” The proverb is used as a warning against 
greed and also, satirically, to someone who has asked in vain from 
a miser. 

A stone is as good as gold for hiding. 

This story comes from the Bustan of Sadi. A miser hoarded all 
his wealth and spent nothing on his family. But one day his son dis- 
covered the hiding-place, and he dug up all the gold and put a large 
stone in its place. The money he spent in riotous living. His father 
soon discovered liis loss, and was overcome with grief ; but liis son 
said cheerfully, “ Gold is for spending, father ; for hiding, a stone is 
just as good.” 

He eats his cheese in a hottle. 

A miser, after much heart-searching, spent a single shahi on a small 
piece of cheese to go widi his bread. But as he was about to swallow 
it, he thought, “ If I eat this now, I shall have only to spend another 
shahi to-morrow. I have a much better idea.” He put the cheese 
ha a bottle and corked it up firmly, and whenever mealtime came 
round, he tore off a piece of bread, rubbed it on the bottle, and ate it 
with great relish. In dais way he was able to make that same piece of 
cheese last for years without any further expense. 

The potter drinks water from a broken pot. 

The lamp does not light its own base. 

Both these imply that men are least generous to daemselves and 
those nearest to them. 

It is easy to be Hatem Tai with the guest's money. 

Reference has already been made to Hatem Ta‘i. The proverb 
indicates that it is easy to be liberal in speiading someone else’s money. 

A dog is better than an oppressor of men. 

A verse from Sa'di. 


54 PERSIAN PROVERBS 

He has hound Shem/s hand behind his hack 

Shemr was the murderer of Hosein at Kerbela, and ever since he 
has figured as an object of Shi'ite execration in the annual “ passion 
plays ” in Moharram. The proverb implies that So-and-so has out- 
done Shemr in cold-blooded cruelty. 

A knife would not draw his Mood. 

Said of a harsh, cold-blooded man. 

God knew the donkey and would not give him horns. 

Ignorant people are likely to abuse their power. Sa'di wrote, 
“ If the donkey had had two horns like the cow, he wouldn’t have 
left one man’s stomach unpierced.” 

If you hit it again, 1 shall have nothing. 

A man had a load of glass vessels on the back of a donkey, and was 
taking them out to market through the main gate of a city. An 
official stopped him and, smacking the bundle with a stick, asked, 
“ "What have you got there?” The man replied, “ If you hit it 
again, I shall have nothing.” The proverb implies that there is a 
limit to anyone’s power to endure oppression. There may even be 
a slight suggestion of “ killing the goose that laid the golden eggs ”. 

Couldnt you find a wall lower than ours ? 

You are oppressing us because we are the humblest persons you 
can find. 

He who ilUtreats his mother will do worse to another. 

You should avoid dealings with a man who permits ill-treatment 
of those nearest to him. 


When the snake is old, the frog will tease him. 

When a powerful man falls, no one has respect for him any more. 


MISERS AND SKINFLINTS 


55 


Kindness to evil men is as had as injury to pod men. 

Sa‘di has two verses which themselves have almost become pro- 
verbs : “ Harshness in return for harshness is an act of justice,” and 
“ To spare the ravening leopard is an act of injustice to the sheep.” 

Snakes hite everyone, cockroaches hite snakes. 

A warning to one who torments those weaker than himself 

Above every band there are other hands. 

Everyone has his superior. An Arabic proverb says, “ Above 
every hand is the hand of God, and every oppressor will himself 
be oppressed.” 

When the fountain has gone up, it comes down. 

Pride comes before a fall. 

Winter has passed, hut coal still has a hlack face. 

A man’s face is said to be blackened wheir he is shamed. Another 
form of the proverb attributes the black face to “ the coal-merchant ”, 
and the expression is used by someone who has survived an ordeal, 
in spite of the failure of others to help him. A similar idea is implied 
in the proverb that follows. 

The night in sahle has passed, and so has the night hy the ovenside. 

It is related that Soltan Malimud of Ghaznd, having spent the even- 
ing in feasting, slept the rest of the night in covers of sable. A poor 
beggar also passed the night by the side of the oven. When morning 
came the beggar cried out to the soltan, “ The night in sable has 
passed, and so has the night by the ovenside ! ” In other words, 
although you did nothiirg to help me, you are this morning no better 
oif than I am. 


6. THE FOLLY OF BOASTING 


There is a tendency for proverbs to tilt against existing human failings rather 
than to set up new heights for man to attain. So in this section again the 
emphasis is on vice rather than virtue. This time we are warned against 
the haughty and obstinate, against those who have *' wind in the head ”, who 
are “ Arab from the roots” (an odd sidelight on the relations between the 
Persians and their Arab neighbours) ; to have dealings with such people is 
like “going into a sack with a bear”. Nor is there a good word to be said 
for ojficious meddlers, people who “ stick their fingers in the milk ”. As for 
the boasters, those who “ throw wind info their sleeves ”, who “ throw dried-up 
straw to the wind”, they will soon he exposed. We cannot, so we are 
repeatedly xVarned, escape the consequences of our actions. This is a favourite 
theme among the classical ivriters, and this fact itself is a refection of its pre- 
valence in popular lore. 


Itf an ohstinate ass that will gladly die to harm its master. 

Compare “to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face”. 


Til let go of the bladder, hut the bladder wont let go of me. 

Some friends were out rowing on a lake, and in the distance saw 
something floating on the water. One of them said, “ It looks like 
a bladder of syrup,” and when the otliers laughed at him, he pulled off 
liis coat and jumped into the water in order to fetch it. But when he 
got nearer he suddenly realized that it was a bear that had filleii into 
the lake and was trying to swim out. He turned away in haste, but 
the bear, at its last gasp, grabbed hold of his feet and hung on for dear 
hfe. Meanwhile the man’s friends, tired of waiting, called, “ Come 
back! What do you want tliat bladder of syrup for? ” “ I’ll let 
go of the bladder,”- he retorted, “but the bladder won’t let go of 
me.” The proverb is used by someone who is plagued by an 
obstinate man or an obstinate problem. 

56 


THE FOLLY OF BOASTING 


57 


The howl is hotter than the stew. 

Said of someone who sticks obstinately to an outmoded opinion, 
who is “ more Catholic than the Pope It is sometimes also used 
in a sense equivalent to “ Blood is thicker than water.” 

A hlind man who sees is better than a seeing man who is blind. 

There are none so deaf as those who won’t hear. 


The ^oose has only one foot. 

Molla Nasr ad-Din one day took a roast goose as a present to a 
newly arrived governor. On the way he succumbed to die tempta- 
tion of pulling off one of the legs and eating it. When he presented 
it to the governor, the latter noticed that one leg was missing. “ "What 
has happened to the otlier leg?” he asked. “ In this part of the 
world,” said the molla, “ the geese have only one leg. If you don’t 
beheve me, look out of the window at the geese by the pond.” The 
governor looked out, and sure enough the geese were standing there 
on one leg. But just then some boys came along and began to chase 
them with sticks. “You liar ! ” exclaimed the governor. “ All those 
geese have two legs.” “ If you’d been claased witlr a stick like that,” 
retorted die molla, “ you’d have doubled the number of your legs.” 
The proverb is used nowadays of someone who obstinately sticks to 
a statement, even when it has been proved untrue. 

Wherever there is stew, Soyand-'so is the hutler. 

Said of an officious person who is always to be found where he is 
not wanted. 

The onion has mixed itself with the fruit. 

Someone has joined a group of people more important than 
himself. 


The mosque is no place to dance. 


58 PERSIAN PROVERBS 

The mosque is no place to tie one^s donkey. 

One must always consider the occasion. 


Mint always grows green outside a snake's hole. 

Said when a man is always running into someone he dislikes. 
Snakes are said to have an aversion to mint. An Arabic saying runs, 
“ He is more loathsome than the smell of wild rue to snakes,” a parallel 
idea. 


The colt has gone ahead of its mother. 

The part has become more important than the whole. Fools rush 
in where angels fear to tread. It is sometimes said of an officious and 
sycophantic person, “ Have you only gone ahead in order not to be 
left behind?” 

Hear a few words from the mother of the hide. 

Said caustically to someone who speaks without being asked. 

I speak to the door, hut the wall may listen. 

If the cap fits, wear it. 

Self praise is like chewing cotton-'wool. 

Musk is known hy its smell, not hy the shopkeeper's words. 

Good wine needs no bush. Compare : 


The hide whom her mother praises will do for her uncle. 

The lamp has no hilliance in front of the sun. 

A pompous man is shown at his true worth in the company of a 
great man. Compare : 


THE FOLLY OF BOASTING 


59 

A fake in the jewellers^ hazaar is not worth a ^rain of barley. 

A tall minaret is nothing beside Mount Aluand. 

Don^t use words too big for your mouth. 

A large stone will never be thrown. 

High-sounding threats seldom come to anything. 

A hollow drum makes a great noise. 

The big drum only sounds well from afar. 

Virtues attributed to strangers seldom bear closer inspection. 

The ugliest monkey shows off the most. 

The meanest people make the biggest claims. Compare : 

The goat'herd drinks from the source, 

If hid had- some water, hid have been a good swimmer. 

It is easy to boast when your claims cannot be disproved. This is 
an idea that has inspired a number of stories and proverbs. Compare 
the following : 

Yazd is far, yards are near. 

A man from Yazd came on a visit to Isfahan, and boasted to some 
acquaintances that in Yazd he had jumped a distance of ten yards. 
One of his hearers observed, “ Yazd is far, yards are near.” Another 
story of tile same proverb is as follows : A Yazdi weaver came to 
Isfahan to work in a factory and, although he never wove more than 
four yards a day, he would boast, “ In Yazd I used to weave ten yards 

E 


6o 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


a day.” At length his employer cried out in exasperation, “ Yazd 
is far, yards are near.” 

Beiza is far^ nine donkeys are near. 

A man from Beiza, on a visit to Shiraz, boasted that in his own 
town he had lined up nine donkeys nose to tail and jumped clear 
over them. A hearer remarked, “ Beiza is far, nine donkeys are 
near. 

Here is the hall and here the field. 

A phrase used when inviting a boastful man to put his cards on the 
table. Many otlrer expressions of the kind are used, including : Here 
is the well and here the rope, here is the seed and here the soil, here 
is the corpse and here the graveyard, here is the weight and here the 
scales, here is the weight and here the counter-weight, here is the 
mosque and here the pulpit, here is the goat and here the thief. In 
other words, here are all the factors in the case, now prove your 
claims. 

The crow tried to copy the partridges walk and forgot his own. 

This story is told by Jami. A crow, being fond of comfort, decided 
to move his nest from the fields to a garden. His eye eventually 
lighted on one at the edge of the mountains, and in it was a handsome 
partridge hopping and strutting among the rocks and trees. The 
crow was greatly taken with this way of walking, and decided to 
imitate it. But after three or four days he had not only failed to 
imitate the partridge successfully, he had also forgotten his own style 
of walking. The Bakhtiyaris tell a similar story about a sparrow and 
a goose. 

May he who does not see he blind! 

Two geese and a tortoise shared a well. One day, as the water was 
getting low, the geese decided to fly away to anotlier place. The 
tortoise begged them to take him too, and so the two geese grasped 


THE FOLLY OF BOASTING 


6l 


a stick in their beaks and told the tortoise to grip the middle of it 
with his teeth. After warning him not on any account to open his 
mouth, they took off. People below were astonished at this unusual 
sight, and began to shout and comment on it. The tortoise listened 
for a while, becoming more and more inflated with vanity, till a 
length he could contain himself no longer and cried out, “ May he 
who does not see be blind ! ” Instantly he fell to the ground and was 
dashed to pieces. 

Ifs the same donkey, only his saddle has been changed. 

Said of someone who has recently gained a high position — or 
sometimes of someone who is wearing a new suit ! 

A tumUe^down hathAmse doesn’t need ten attendants. 

A pennyworth of liver doesn’t need a print taUecloth. 

He has no dinner or supper, hut he keeps seven jugs and basins 
Three proverbs about people who keep up appearances beyond their 
means. The jug and basin is used for washing hands after a meal. 

Do not ignore the retribution of your deeds ; you will reap wheat 
from wheat, barley from barley. 

You may sow thorns, but you won’t reap jasmine. 

For what you have done yourself there is no remedy. 

I was burnt with the fire that 1 myself lighted. 

A miller was hard at work one day, when a demon from the desert 
came and sat in a comer of the mill. The miller asked him, “ What 


62 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


is your name ? ” The demon replied, “ What is your name ? ” The 
miller answered, “ I am ‘ I myself’.” The demon said, “ I too am 
* I myself’.” The miller tried hard to tlmk of some way of getting 
rid of this unwelcome visitor, but could hit on nothing. What he 
found especially annoying was that the demon copied everything he 
did ; if he drank water, the demon drank water ; if he ate bread, the 
demon did so ; if he said something, die demon repeated die exact 
words. At last he had an idea. He fetched two basins, one full of 
water and the other of kerosene, and placed the first at one end of the 
miU. The demon promptly took the basin of kerosene to the other 
end. The miller dien laid a box of matches in front of liis basin and, 
splashing himself all over, struck a match and held it to his clothes. 
The demon went through the same actions, and at once burst into 
flames. The other demons in the desert heard his cries and came 
running to his aid. “Who did this to you?” they asked. “‘I 
myself’ did it,” he cried. “ But why should you do that? ” they 
exclaimed. “ I myself didn’t do it, ‘ I myself’ did it,” replied the 
demon. “ Well, there’s no remedy for what you have done your- 
self,” they retorted ; and they went oif and left him to bum to death. 
The proverb is now used of someone who has suftered the effects of 
his own foUy, or sometimes too of someone who has fallen into the 
trap that he was preparing for someone else. 

This is the bread that I haked for myself 
Dig a well for no one, for you will fall in first. 

The welUdi^ger is always at the bottom of his well. 

Finder by finger do not take, lest you lose vat by vat. 

A wealdiy merchant, who had made a fortune in tlie sale of oil, 
used to instruct his assistant to tip the scales with his finger in the 
appropriate direction when buying or selling. “ What is the purpose 
of cheating like that,” asked the assistant, “ for die sake of such a small 



THE FOLLY OF BOASTING 


63 

profit? ” “ Haven’t you heard, my boy,” answered the merchant, 
“ that ‘ drops that gather one by one finally become a sea ’ ? ” One 
day the merchant decided to journey from his home town of Baku 
to Persia, where, so he had heard, oil was fetching a good price. He 
packed his oil in vats and set sail with his assistant. On the way he 
began to talk of how, with the profits from his business, he would 
settle down in Persia, the land of his ancestors, buy a fine estate, and 
spend the rest of his days in peace and comfort. The words were 
hardly out of his mouth when a great storm began to blow up. 
Soon the vessel was being lashed by the waves, and the terrified mer- 
chant fell on his knees and began to pray. Just then the captain of the 
ship came up, ” Tliis is no time to weep and wail,” he exclaimed,, 
” we must find a way to lighten the ship. Our only hope is to tlarow 
overboard tliis cargo of oil of yours.” In the extremity of Iris fear the 
merchant agreed, and even himself helped the sailors to throw the vats 
into the sea. The assistant looked at him slyly and said, “ Finger by 
finger do not take, lest you lose vat by vat.” 

The Stick of God is soundlessj hut its Mows cannot he healed. 

The mills of God grind slowly . , , Compare : 

God seizes late, hut seizes harshly. 

A single stone is enough for a house of glass. 

“ People who live in glass houses . . Since glass was not used 
widely in Persia, this may be a reverse importation from Europe. 
The line occurs in tlie works of the shcteendi-century poet Zolali of 
Khonsar, the complete verse running, “In this world a whip is 
enough for a madman, and a stone for a house of glass.” 

Everyone drinks the water of his own heart. 

Everyone’s life is determined by what is within himself 


64 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


Compare : 

God lives to each accordini to the measure of his heart 
You will take hack with the hand with which you live. 
The mud that you throw will fall on your own head. 



7. TOO MANY COOKS . . . 

We now come to the people who are most commonly the butt of popular wit — 
the fools, the incompetent, the man who “ takes the donkey on to the roof’\ 
who “pounds water in a mortar”, who tries to “ weigh the wind”. Such 
a man has obviously “ eaten a donkey s brains It is certain that he will be 
left with nothing but “ wind in his hand He might as well “ crack a hollow 
walnut” or “ take caraway seeds to Kerman”. “His arrow will strike a 
stone ”, and it will be evident to all that he is “ talking with his foot in the 
air”. And so we pass on to the improvident, the idlers, the infatuated and 
the day dreamers, those who waste their time “cooking raw dreams”, who 
“ sleep on all four sides ”, who indeed slumber so long and soundly that “ in 
their dreams they see seven kings ”. To those who try to excuse their conduct, 
the proverbs have an answer too, for by seeking to justify themselves they will 
only give the truth away. 

A house with two mistresses will he deep in dust 

The village with two headmen falls into ruin. 

Two midwives will twist the hahys head. 

With two cooks the stew will he salty or tasteless. 

A crowded reservoir breaks many jars. 

The poet Mas‘tid Sa‘cL Saimaa complaiaed, “ The heart is troubled 
when there are two loved ones ; die head is overweighted with 
two crowns ; wine in two cups brings drunkenness . . The 
Arabs say, “ The ship that has two captains will sink.” 

He tried to pick out an eyelash and blinded his eye. 

He only made things worse by his incompetence. 

65 


66 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


Youpe planted half with cottou'-wool, now let me plant the rest 
with silk 

A novice at barbering was shaving a man’s head, and every time 
he nicked it he put a little piece of cotton-wool on the spot. The 
unfortunate customer, growing restive, asked what was going on. 
“ Oh, it’s nothing,” replied the barber, " I’m just planting cotton- 
wool.” The enraged customer seized the mirror and, observing his 
ridiculous appearance, said, “ All right, leave the rest, I want to plant 
silk ! ” The proverb is used when relieving someone of a task fcfr 
which he is incompetent. 

He is learning hrhering on someone’s hald head. 

Said of a novice who is a nuisance to those he practises on. 

Hasan seldom went to work, and when he did he went on Friday. 

Friday is the Moslem day of rest. The proverb is used of a muddled 
and incompetent person. 

A mouse could steal groats from his pocket. 

Said of an incompetent man. 

The fool’s answer is silence. 

In the mountains the hear is Avicenna. 

Any fool can appear wise where there is no competition. 

If you marry the donkey, you must carry its load. 

If you associate with a fool, you must be prepared to put up with 
his foUy. 

The halfwit spoke, and the brainless one believed him. 

Only a fool could believe such nonsense. 


TOO MANY COOKS . . 


67 


Ifs a wise man that laughs at his own iokes. 

While there are fools in the world, no one will he in want 
A crow was sitting on the branch of a tree with a large piece of 
cheese in his beak. A fox came along and began to address him in a 
fawning voice. “ May God have mercy upon your respected father ! 
What a beautiful voice he had ! How moved I was when he closed 
his eyes and piped a tune more beautiful than the nightingale’s ! But 
why should we grieve? If the fadicr has gone, the son remains. 
What pleasure and pride it would be for me if you too would honour 
and delight us widr notes like drosc your dear father used to sing.” 
The foolish crow fell into the trap, closed his eyes, and opened wide 
his beak in order to sing. The cheese fell to the ground, and the fox 
seized it and ran off. 


A lon^ heard is a mark of folly. 

An old scholar one day came upon the following saying in one of 
his books of learning : “A beard longer than a hand’s breadth is a 
mark of folly.” “ How can this be? ” he said to himself “ What 
has a man’s beard to do with his intelligence? My own beard is 
several hands’ breadth long, but no one can say that I am a fool. 
No, it is the writer who is a fool . . . All the saine, even if the 
saying isn’t true, there would be no harm in shortening my beard 
to one hand’s breadth.” So he reached for his scissors, but could not 
find them in his pen-case. “ Never mind,” he said, “ the candle will 
do as well as a pair of scissors.” He grasped his beard tightly one 
hand’s breadth below his cliin, and set fire to it with the candle. The 
flames soon spread to Iris hand, and with a cry of pain he let go ; 
before he could extinguish the blaze, his beard was gone and his face 
badly burned. When he returned from hospital, he turned to that 
same page and wrote in the margin, “ I have personally tested this 
saying, it is quite true.” 


Where the heart is, there is happiness. 



68 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


He has fallen in love with the eyes of the frog. 

Some tliirsty merchants in the desert came to a well, but found to 
their dismay that when they let a bucket down, it did not come up 
again. Several of their number also climbed down, but none of them 
returned. One of the merchants bad a sly and clever servant, whom 
he instructed to go down the well. The servant naturally refused, 
but when the other merchants promised him a great reward, he finally 
agreed and, tying a rope round his waist, was lowered into the well. 
When he got to the bottom, he found a demon squatting in a comer, 
with his eyes firmly fixed on a large frog in the other comer. The 
servant immediately bowed low and paid his respects in the most 
courteous mamier. The demon said, “ If you had failed to greet me, 
like those other mortals, I would have swallowed you whole. Now 
I have a question that you must answer correctly before I will let you 
take any water. Where is happiness to be found?” Now the 
servant had noticed how the demon’s eyes were fixed on the frog, 
and he answered, “ Where the heart is, there is happiness.” The 
demon was so pleased with this reply that he said to the servant, 
“ Bravo ! Now go through diat door into the garden that you will 
find, and pick yourself ten pomegranates. Keep tliem carefully, for 
in each one you will find treasure enough to keep you for tlie rest of 
your days. Then call out to your friends, that they may pull up the 
bucket and you widi it.” This is an episode in a much longer story, 
the details of which do not concern us here. The proverb is now used 
of someone who is infatuated with sometlnng worthless. 

What is held in the heart seems good to the eye. 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sa'di relates how a certain 
wise man was asked why it was that, although Soltau Mahmud of 
Gharn^ had many beautiful slaves in his andarun, he paid none of them 
so much attention as he did to his favourite Ayaz, who was no beauty. 
He repHed, “ What is held in the heart seems good to tlie eye.” 

Leila must he seen through Majnun's eyes. 

Leda and Majnun are the heroine and hero of the Persian equivalent 


TOO MANY COOKS ... 69 

of the Romeo and Juliet story ; several of the great Persian poets 
have been inspired by their tragedy. 

He hasn’t time to scratch his head. 

He hasn’t time to divorce his wife. 

These two sayings are used of a man who is too preoccupied to 
attend to anything, however important. The story is told of a 
Shirazi who married an Isfahani wife. The Shirazis are noted for 
their indolence and light-hearted ways, and this man was no exception. 
His new wife, a typically shrewd and practical Isfalrani, determined to 
* reform him. “ You really mustn’t sit around all day like that,” she 
said, “ I’ll find you a nice easy occupation.” So the next morning 
she cooked a large bowl of stew and told liim to sit comfortably on 
the front doorstep and sell it to the passers-by. When that task was 
working satisfactorily, she said, “ Now we must arrange something 
for your afternoons.” She gave him a large fodder-bag and said, 
“ Walk slowly round the streets, taking care not to tire yourself, and 
collect all the dung that you can find.” A few days later she arranged 
for him to spend liis evenings cooking beets over the furnace of the 
bath-house and selling them to the patrons. So it went on, and after 
a week or two the unfortunate Shirazi found every minute of his day 
occupied ; “he hadn’t even time to scratch his head ”. One day, 
when he was out coUecting dung, he met an old friend and, without 
stopping his work, began to complain to him of his hard lot. “ A 
wife like that is no good,” replied his friend. “ Why don’t you 
divorce her ? ” “I haven’t even time for that,” lamented the Shirazi.^ 


There is so much trefoil that you can’t see the jasmine. 

Said to a man who claims to be too busy to attend to minor 
matters. 

1 Under Islamic law it is sufldcient for a husband to declare three times 
before witnesses, “ I divorce her.” 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


70 

You can't pick up two melons with one hand. 

If you have too many preoccupations, you will succeed at none of 
them. Compare : 

One place is everywhere, everywhere is nowhere. 

Shoes wear out with too much running. 

When you sang so loud you never thought of the winter. 

A nightingale and an ant lived in a garden, tile former on the 
highest branch of a tall tree, the latter in a small hole at its foot. The 
nightingale spent its days and nights in flying round the garden and 
singing, while the ant busied itself in adding to its store. The ant 
watched the nightingale flirting with the rose and said to itself, 
“ Time will tell a different story.” Autumn came, the flowers 
■withered, and the leaves turned yellow ; the nightingale found itself 
friendless and hungry. In this predicament it thought of the ant, 
and decided to appeal to it as a good neighbour. In all humility it 
acknowledged its improvident ways and begged for help. But the 
ant said sternly, “ When you sang so loud, you never thought of the 
whiter.” And it reminded the nightingale of the proverb : 

Every spring has an autumn and every road an ending. 

He bought what was useless and sold what was needful. 

A certain man sold a piece of land and bought a horse. A friend 
said to him, ” You have sold that which gave you barley and have 
bought that which will consume it.” 


The hride cannot go out if she has no veil. 

You must make sure that you have all the faciHties that you need 
before you embark on a task. 



TOO MANY COOKS . . 


71 


You cant mend father' s graue with hits and pieces. 

Two brothers came to visit their father’s grave, and found it in 
great disrepair. The elder said, “We must put this in order. Go 
into that old tomb and see if you can’t find some bricks we can use.” 
The younger brother went into the tomb and brought out all the 
whole bricks he could find, but they were not nearly enough. He 
went a second time and brought a load of the largest broken pieces he 
could find, but still there was not enough. The third time he was 
obliged to bring an armful of chips and shavings, and as he threw 
them down he said, “ You can’t mend father’s grave with bits and 
pieces,” The proverb impHes that it is a waste of time to set about 
a task with inadequate tools and materials. 

A wedding in the bridegroom's house, hut nothing in the bride's. 

Said when someone acts without thinking and before the proper 
time. 

Keep the lamp for darkness. 

Don’t waste your possessions. Keep them for when you need 
them. 


White ^old for a black day. 

Something laid by for a rainy day. 

You may buy a mouse-'hole for a hundred dinars. 

The mouse-hole is a way of escape, and tlae idea is that it is wise to 
keep something in reserve, not to burn your boats, and so on. 

He is like the servant of the aubergine. 

One day Nasr ad-Dui Shah was eating a dish of aubergines and, 
turning to his chamberlahi, remarked, “ What an excellent vegetable 
the aubergine is!” “Yes, indeed, Your Majesty,” replied the 
chamberlain ; “ it is the most delicious of vegetables. It is at once 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


72 

appetizing, nourishing and tasty.” The next day His Majesty, 
having over-indulged his appetite the day before, was suffering from 
a stomach-ache and observed, “ What an unpleasant vegetable the 
aubergine is . . The chamberlain broke in, “ Yes, indeed, Your 
Majesty, the aubergine is the worst of vegetables. It causes wind 
and flatulence, it is unwholesome and indigestible.” The Shah 
looked at him in astonishment and said, “ Didn’t you tell me yester- 
day that the aubergine was an excellent vegetable ? How have you 
come to change your mind ? ” “ Your Majesty,” replied the chamber- 
lain, “ I am the servant of the Shall, not of the aubergine. Yesterday 
Your Majesty praised it and so did I ; to-day Your Majesty con- 
demned it, and so did I.” The proverb is used nowadays of a 
” sifter of rice ”, an unprincipled person who turns with every wind 
that blows. 

He winnows wherever the wind is. 

Said of an unprincipled person. 

I £we yon advice, and you count Jlies / 

A father was giving his son some advice, and was speaking to him 
quietly and seriously. But the boy’s mind was elsewhere, and his 
father’s words went ” in at this ear and out at that ”. When his 
father paused, the boy said, “Father, while you were talking I 
counted twenty flies on our donkey’s back ! ” The father’s reply is 
used proverbially of an inattentive or obstinate person. 


Till the calfhecomes a cow, its mother s heart will turn to water. 

A mother undergoes countless sufferings to raise her child. The 
proverb is also used more widely to imply that, no matter what you 
do, a foolish person can never be expected to improve ; “ the camel’s 
tail will reach the ground ” before that will happen. 


The rod is sent from Heaven. 


TOO MANY COOKS . . 


73 


Only a yreen stick will tame the ox and the ass. 

Spare the rod and spoil the child. Ordy fear of punishment will 
make people do their duty. 

An eggHhief becomes a cameUthief. 

A small boy stole some eggs from his neighbour and brought them 
to lus mother. Instead of scolding him, she took the eggs and cooked 
them for dumer. The same thing happened again and again, until 
egg-stealing became second nature with the boy. By the time he 
was a grown man, he went still further and stole a camel. But this 
time he was caught and haled before the qazi, who ordered his hand 
to be cut off. The boy cried out in distress, “ You should cut off 
my mother’s hand,” and he told the whole story. The qazi thereupon 
pardoned him and, sending for his mother, reprimanded her severely. 
The proverb indicates that a bad habit will grow worse if it is not 
checked at once. 

Drunkenness brings truth. 

A man who is off his guard gives himself away. 

You can’t hide a drum under a blanket. 

Shall I believe your oath or the tail of the cock? 

A man stole a cock and hid it under his coat. The owner caught 
up with hun and asked, “ What are you doing with my cock?” 
The tliief began to swear that he had never touched the cock, but the 
owner, looking at the cock’s tail protruding from the man’s coat, 
said, “ Shall I beHeve your oath or the tail of the cock ? ” The moral, 
like tliat of the preceding proverb, is that it is useless to conceal 
crime that is obvious. 

He cries to the Shah before the beating. 

A man was summoned by the Shah, and before he had even entered 
the court he began to shout and cry for mercy, saying, “ Overlook 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


74 

my offence ! Don’t beat me ! ” In fact the Shah, had only sum- 
moned him for questioning, but by his actions the man revealed his 
gudt. 

Words hut not wind. 

Words are mans cud. 

Men talk when they have nothing else to do. 

Words hrin£ words, as wind brings snow. 

A red tongue will destroy a green head. 

An unruly tongue endangers the whole body. 

What is in the pot will come out in the ladle. 

What the heart thinks the tongue will say. 

Reticence is a sign of wisdom. 

Don't answer until you are pestioned. 

He who talks of others will talk of you. 

Beware of gossip-mongers. Compare : 


You can shut the city gate, hut you cant shut the mouth of men. 

We have neither cash for a thief to steal, nor faith for the Deoil 
to steal. 

The man who has no ass has no cares over harley and straw, 
Two proverbs used to excuse or justify laziness and improvidence, 
and the shirking of responsibility. Compare : 



TOO MANY COOKS . . 


75 


The larger a mans roof, the more snow it collects. 

The higger a mans head, the worse his headache. 

They don^t steal a saddle from a hareAack ass. 

A penniless man has nothing to lose. 

Even the Emam Kezas sheep will not pasture before noon. 

The Lady Fatima takes care of slovenly women. 

A certain merchant, who had two wives, went on a journey. The 
elder of the two wives made great preparations for his return, em- 
broidermg a beautiful coat of silk and preparing delicious food ; but 
she neglected to wash her face or tidy herself. The younger wife’s 
present was a coat of the coarsest cloth, and she did no more than sweep 
the dirt into a corner of the room ; but she took great care with her 
clothes and her appearance. So the merchant valued her gift as much 
as the other, and showed it by wearing each in turn. 

He placed a hone inside the wound. 

A rich man who had injured his leg was taken to an avaricious 
surgeon, who bound up his wounds and ordered him to be brought 
regularly for attention. The injured man continued thus in great 
pain for a long time, until one day the surgeon himself fell sick, and 
his son took charge of the practice. The son examined the rich man’s 
wound and saw at once that a small piece of bone had lodged inside 
it. Once this was removed, the wound healed readily. On the 
surgeon’s return, his son told him how he had cured the injured leg, 
whereupon his father began to abuse him. “ Do you suppose I 
didn’t Imow that bone was there? I put it there myself so that I 
might profit for a long time from this rich man’s wealth. But now 
in one day you have thrown away our ‘nine-gallon cow’.” The 
proverb is used of someone who deliberately spins out a task for reasons 
of his own. 



76 PERSIAN PROVERBS 

We did our share, hut our ancestor let us down. 

A rich man fell sick, and his wife, on the advice of her neighbour, 
consulted a certain holy man who would, for a suitable sum, pray to 
his sainted ancestor to restore her husband’s health. The saint’s 
prayers however had no effect, since the next morning the rich man 
died. After die mourning was over the widow met the holy man in 
the street and reproached liim, saying, “ That was a fine prayer that 
you prayed ! My husband died die next day.” The holy man 
replied, “I did my share, but my ancestor let me down.” The 
proverb is used as an excuse for failing to carry out a task. 

Where was your fask for me to Jill with oil ? 

A certain man was travelling with two vats of od, and had to go 
through a pass that was generally frequented by robbers. At the far 
end of the pass was a shrine, and the traveller, before entering the 
dangerous spot, prayed to the saint, saying, “ If I reach your shrine 
in safety, I will dedicate some of this oil to you.” It so happened 
that on this occasion there were no robbers in the pass, and by the 
time he reached the shrine the man had regretted Iiis oath, and making 
various excuses he continued his journey widiout leaving any of the 
oil. A few miles further on his donkey stumbled and fell, and both 
the vats were broken. The traveller, supposmg this to be tlie retri- 
bution of the saint, cried out in querulous protest, “ Where was your 
flask for me to fill?” Like those that precede and follow, diis 
proverb is used in reference to someone who makes unreasonable 
excuses. 


He has sown millet on his rope, 

A neighbour came to borrow a rope from MoHa Nasr ad-Din. 
The molla went to look for it, but came back and apologized, explam- 
ing, “My wife has sown miUet on the rope.” “ Wliat do you 
mean ? ” exclaimed the neighbour. “ How can you sow millet on a 
rope ? ” “ Never you mind,” retorted the molla, “ if I don’t want to 
lend it I can say that my wife has sown flour on it if I like ! ” 


TOO MANY COOKS . . 


77 


Hes CIS had as Ali the Faultfinder. 

A certain young man drove his wife to distraction by liis constant 
fault-finding. One day she devised a plan to forestall all criticism, 
by arranging everything in two different ways. So when Ali came 
home and complained, “ Why isn’t the front-door shut ? ” she replied, 
“ One leaf is shut.” “ Well, it ought to be open.” “ The other 
leaf is open.” “ Well, why have you cleaned the house ? ” grumbled 
Ali. “ That half is unswept,” replied his wife. “ I told you to pencil 
your eyebrows.” “ I’ve done this one,” she answered. “ Why 
haven’t you combed your hair ? ” “ I’ve combed this side.” “ Well, 
I told you not to paint your cheeks.”. “ But I haven’t painted this 
one.” So it went on all evening ; whether he complained about the 
food, or the drink, or anything else, she always had an answer for him. 
At last he lost his temper and in sheer exasperation cried, “ Well, why 
haven’t you swept under my moustache ? ’ ’ The poor wife remained 
dumb with mortification, for this was the one thing she had never 
thought of! 



8. HONESTY AND FRIENDSHIP 


Of an mtrustivorthy man it will he said that “ he hasnt a sound gut in his 
stomach ”, “ his henna has no colour”, he is “gravel in ones shoe He 
will delude you with false promises, by “ showing you greenery in the 
garden ” or by “ giviftg you a rabbit's dreams ” ; he will acquire influence over 
you. by “grasping the vein of your sleep ”, He will “ reverse his horseshoes ” 
in order to deceive you, as the Turcoman brigands used to do after a successful 
raid in order to mislead pursuers. Another person to be despised is the hypo- 
crite, the prude, the man who “ sprinkles water on a prayer-carpet On the 
reverse side of the picture the proverbs praise harmony and friendship, loyalty, 
hospitality, generosity and gratitude. 

It is easier to make a promise than to fulfil it. 

We three have done our part, now you shake your heard. 

One night Shah Abbas disguised himself as a dervish and wandered 
through the streets of Isfahan. On his way he met three robbers, 
who asked him to join them. It was a very dark night, so dark that 
“ one eye could not see another As they walked, they began to 
boast to one anotlier of their peculiar skills. The first robber said, 
“ If I meet a man but once on a pitch-black night, no matter what 
he is wearing, I shall recognize Ifirn the moment I see him again.” 
The second said, “ Any lock that I touch, no matter how strong it is, 
will open of its own accord.” The third said, “ I can understand the 
language of the animals and interpret whatever they say.” The false 
dervish said, ” With a shake of my beard I can free any criminal, no 
matter how gudty he may be.” Just then a dog barked, and the tlnrd 
robber, challenged by his comrades, said, “ He is saying that, wherever 
we go to steal, the owner will be with us.” The robbers laughed, 
and continued on their way until they came to the royal treasury. 
While they were planning to break in, tire dervish said, “ This is a 
dangerous task. If the guards wake and catch us, die least that will 

78 


HONESTY AND FRIENDSHIP 


79 


happen to us is a sound beating.” “ Don’t be scared,” retorted the 
robbers, “ we’re so experienced in these matters that ‘ even a jenn 
couldn’t get near us’, let alone the Shah and his men.” Then the 
robbers scaled the wall and found their way to the strong-room ; the 
thief who was skilled at locks opened the door at a touch, as he had 
promised, and the three thieves returned to the waiting dervish with 
sacks stuffed full of gold and jewels. These they buried outside the 
city, planning to return and divide them the following morrdng. 
The Shall then hastened back to the palace, and there gave orders for 
the recovery of the stolen goods and the immediate arrest of the thieves. 
The next morning they were brought before him, and the Shall, 
addressing them in a tone of thunder, sent for the executioner. But 
the first robber said, “ Your Majesty, four of us were engaged in that 
robbery. Three of us have done our part ; now let the fourth shake 
his beard.” Shall Abbas, acknowledging that the first robber, by 
recognizing him, had, like the other two, fulfilled his claim, pardoned 
the three men and gave them posts at the palace. The proverb is now 
used when two people agree to carry out a task jointly, and one of 
them fails in his imdertaking. 

These are like Solomon's promises to the frogs. 

One day the frogs presented a petition to King Solomon, saying, 
“ O Prophet of God ! We are naked and destitute ; in winter we 
freeze with cold, and in summer we roast with heat. Give us a 
cloak to protect us from the cold of winter and the heat of summer 
alike.” Solomon pleased them with ready promises, but every day 
thereafter they gathered before him crying, “ Our cloak ! Our 
cloak ! ” and received no satisfaction. So it is that to this very day 
you may hear the frogs crying, “ Our cloak ! Our cloak ! ” The 
proverb is used of someone who is known to be unreliable in carrying 
out his promises. 

Make it any colour you like hut that one ! 

A man gave a coat to a dyer to be dyed blue. But the next day. 



8o 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


when he came for it, the dyer said, “ Blue is an unlucky colour, for it 
is the colour of mourning. Let me dye your coat another colour.” 
The customer agreed, but every day the dyer had a fresh reason for 
suggesting another colour. Finally the exasperated customer ex- 
claimed, “ Give me back the coat undyed ; a simple coat can’t take 
a hundred thousand colours.” The dyer, who had sold it die first 
day, was forced to confess, “ I dipped your coat in the vat of oblivion 
and it took the colour of non-ebdstence.” The customer retorted, 
“You could have made it any colour you liked but that one ! ” The 
proverb is addressed to someone who makes a foolish excuse to conceal 
his failure to carry out a promise. 

The fox produces hts tail as a witness. 

This proverb is used of someone who produces in support of his 
claims a wimess who, because of a personal interest in the case, is even 
less rehable than the complainant. 

He will make a hundred ju^s without a handle. 

He will make a hundred knives without a haft. 

Both proverbs mean that you can’t believe a word he says. 

The/d have ^ot me too, if 1 hadnt been quick. 

Two men and a woman plotted to rob Molla Nasr ad-Din of the 
cow and donkey he was taking to market. First one of the men 
crept up behind him and cut the cow loose from its leadhig string 
without the molla noticing. A few minutes later the second man 
accosted Molla Nasr ad-Din. “ Why, molla, haven’t you noticed ? 
They’ve stolen your cow. I saw the thieves just now beyond that 
hill.” “ Then I’ll go and look for them if you’ll please hold my 
donkey.” The molla searched for a long time, and at last came back 
empty-handed to the same spot, to find that his ass had gone too. 
Much upset, he started for home, and saw a woman weeping by the 
side of a well. “ What shall I do ? ” she waded. “ I’ve dropped my 


HONESTY AND FRIENDSHIP 


8i 


earring down this well.” “ I’ll get it for you,” exclaimed die gallant 
molla, and stripping off his clothes he climbed down the well. Once 
again he searched fruidessly, and clambered to the top to find the 
woman gone with all his clothes. He picked up his stick and, 
whirling it round his head, set off at full speed for home. His family 
greeted him with astonishment, but he retorted, “ Don’t say a word, 
for the thieves would have got me too if I hadn’t been quick ! ” The 
proverb is now used by someone who has fallen victim to trickery. 

He reckons like Haji Hadi the codmerchant 

A Lori tribesman brought a load of charcoal to a coal-merchant in 
Isfahan. The merchant, Haji Hadi, weighed it, and then began to 
reckon as follows. “ Your charcoal weighed a hundred ‘ fifties ’,^ 
right? That makes a hundred and fifty, right? So a hundred and 
fifty from half a maund leaves fifty owing to me ! ” The Lor 
scratched his head, but couldn’t sec any flaw in the account. “ You 
must be right,” he said, “ but what do I get out ofit? ” The proverb 
is now used of a dishonest trader. 

Under his cup is a saucer. 

Wheels within wheels. There is more in this than meets the eye. 


The quickwitted die youn^. 

A warning to someone who tries to be too clever. 

They tripped him with a mehn-'skin. 

A certain wealthy amir, who enjoyed good living, lavished all his 
favours upon a particular dancing-girl in his troupe, to die great 
discontent of the other girls. .Try as they might, they could find no 
way to dislodge her from the amir’s affections. But one night they 
took advantage of the amir’s drunkenness to slip a melon-skin under 

1 In Isfahan a maund (see Glossary) consists of four charaks, each of fifty 
units, and so often known as “ fifty ”. 


82 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


her feet as she was dancing. She fell heavily and injured her leg, and 
by the time she was able to dance again, the amir was no longer 
interested in her. The proverb is used of someone who has been 
duped or made a victim of his own conceit. 


The quarrel was over the molla’s quilt. 

One night a fight started outside Molla Nasr ad-Din’s house. He 
got up, wrapped his quilt round his shoulders, and went to investigate. 
As soon as the rowdies saw him, they snatched his quilt and ran off 
down the road. The molla went quietly back to bed. “ What was 
the matter ? ” asked his wife. “ Notliing,” said Molla Nasr ad-Dm, 
“ the whole quarrel was over the molla s quilt. Once they had that, 
they made no more trouble.” The proverb is used when someone is 
deluded by a mock quarrel or some similar deception. A wise man 
in such a case “ hangs on to his quilt with both hands 

Our turn to dance will come. 

A camel and a donkey were turned loose from a caravan because 
they were too exhausted to travel any longer. However, as luck 
would have it, they found a valley with excellent pasture, and there 
they lived comfortably for a long time. One day a caravan passed 
in the distance, and when the donkey heard the bells, he began to 
bray. “ Be quiet,” said the camel, “ they’ll hear us and catch us, 
and we shall be taken from this fine place.” “ I can’t help it,” 
answered the donkey, “ I feel like singing.” The muleteers of the 
caravan soon came up, seized both the animals, and took them along 
with the caravan. Before long they came to a deep river and, as the 
donkey could not cross it by himself, they lifted him on to the camel’s 
back. In the middle of the river the camel suddenly started to kick. 
“ Keep still,” cried the donkey, " you’ll throw me into the river.” 

I can’t help it,” retorted the camel, ” I feel like dancing, and now 
it’s my turn.” And witliout more ado he threw the donkey off his 
back and left him to drown. The proverb is used by someone as a 
warning to a man who has cheated him. 



HONESTY AND FRIENDSHIP 


83 


A crooked load will not last the journey. 

Dishonest practices will get you nowhere. 

The snake must he straight to enter the hole. 

Honesty is the best policy. 

" Praise God neuer made any one fat. 

" Praise God never dyed anyone's coat. 

Don’t be deceived by hypocrisy. 

Hood and cloak do not make the dervish. 

A man must not be judged by his outward appearance. 

Don't bandage a head that doesn't ache. 

Don’t be a hypocrite in order to gain sympathy. 

Don't he duped hy the praying of the hermit's cat. 

Shah Shojah fourteenth-century ruler of Shiraz, had a great opinion 
of a hermit named Emad, who maintained his reputation by a variety 
of tricks, of which his most noteworthy was that he had trained his 
cat to stand behind him when he prayed and imitate him. Shall 
Shoja' took this as evidence of the hermit’s piety, but the poet Hafez 
satirized Emad in a lyric ending with the above line. This so incensed 
the hermit that, when he came across a verse by Hafez that could be 
interpreted as blasphemy, he took it straight to the Shah. On hearing 
of tliis, Hafez hastily composed another verse putting the blasphemous 
verse into the mouth of a Christian, and thus absolved himself from 
blame, since the reporting of blasphemy could not be held to be 
blasphemy. The proverb serves to warn one against hypocrites and 
deceivers. 

” HalvOt halva" does not sweeten the mouth. 

Compare “ fine words butter no parsnips 


84 PERSIAN PROVERBS 

My new sleeve should eat the polou / 

One day MoUa Nasr ad-Din. went to dine at a certain house, but 
since he was wearing his old clothes, he was put at the foot of the 
cloth near the door, and every other guest who came was seated above 
him. The next time he went to that house, he wore his best clothes ; 
and when he entered and was about to sit in his former place, the 
whole gatliering rose to their feet in protest and insisted that he sit 
at the head of the cloth next to the host. Soon a large dish of polou 
was brought in, and die molla, helping himself liberally, proceeded 
to put it into his sleeve, saying, “ My new sleeve should eat the 
polou ! ” The proverb is used when people pay more attention to 
outward appearance than to inward qualities. 

Salt seasons tainted meat, hut what if the salt is tainted? 

The Arabs have a proverb, “ If the teacher be corrupt, die world 
will be corrupt.” 

You cannot clap with one hand. 

Two heads are better than one. 

When the cat and mouse agree, the grocer is ruined. 

The patriotic poet Iraj Mirza used tliis proverb in a satirical poem 
on the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907 dividing Persia into spheres 
of influence. 

Who is lost from sight is lost from the heart. 

Distance preserves friendship. 

Two contrasting proverbs that may be compared with “ Out of 
sight, out of mind ” and ” Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” 

A wise enemy is better than a foolish friend. 

This widely used proverb comes from Rumi’s Masnavi, where the 
following story is told. A wise man was riding along a road, when 


HONESTY AND FRIENDSHIP 85 

he saw a snake crawling into the mouth of a sleeping man. Too late 
to stop it, he seized a club and began to beat the unfortunate sleeper. 
The man leapt up, but the rider continued to beat him and drove him 
to a tree where a quantity of rotten apples were lying on the ground. 
These he proceeded to cram into his mouth, regardless of his protests 
and abuse. Then he continued beating him unmercifully untd at last 
the wretched man vomited and brought up die snake. As soon as he 
saw it, the man fell on his knees and began to praise the rider whom he 
had just been abusing. “ But why,” he said, “ didn’t you wake me 
first and warn me ? ” “ If I had done that,” replied his rescuer, “ you 
would have died of fright on the spot. You would never have load 
die strength even to vomit.” 

Heart jink a way to heart 

Love and friendsliip are always mutual. 

A head without love is like a marrow'^plant without fruit. 

Sheikh Balia'i wrote, “ The breast that has no love for the fair is 
like a sack full of old bones.” 

For one yuest the host will hill a cow. 

If one counts on the generosity of others, one will not be dis- 
appointed. 

The guest is the host's donkey. 

The guest must be content with what the host provides. Ferdousi 
has a line in the Shahnam^, “ In his own palace the host is king.” 

Don't Ireak your host's salt-cellar. 

Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth. Silt is regarded as the symbol 
of hospitality. The Persians also say : 

Don't count the teeth of a gift-horse. 


86 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


Hospitality is two^siki 

One good turn deserves another. Compare : 

The neighbour's howl has two feet. 

See that your howl brings hack a pot. 

This proverb, which has the meaning of “ One good turn deserves 
another,” may be connected with the MoUa Nasr ad-Din story on 
page 50. 

A grateful dog is better than an ungrateful man. 

Sackcloth " even to me ? 

A debtor was brought by his creditors before the q^azi, and his 
lawyer privately instructed him to answer the single word “ sack- 
cloth ” to any and every question that he was asked. In this way the 
qazi and the creditors were soon convinced that he had been driven 
out of his mind by his worries, and they let him go. The next day 
the triumphant lawyer came to collect his fee, and was greeted with 
•the single word “ sackcloth The expression is used in protest 
against gross ingratitude. 

The reward of good is evil 

A rider discovered a snake caught in the midst of a forest fire. 
When the snake saw him, it appealed for help, and since the rider was 
a God-fearing man, he overcame his fears and, holdmg out his saddle- 
bag on the end of a spear, lifted the snake out of the fire. “ Now go 
where you will,” he said, ” and in gratitude for your release trouble 
mankind no more.” But the snake turned on him, saying, “ I shall 
not leave till I have killed you and your camel. You knew that I was 
a symbol of evil to men, and yet you ignored the proverb, ‘ Kindness 
to evil men is like injury to good men.’ So you must take the conse- 
quences. Moreover, I am only copying the practice of men them- 
selves. ‘ You will now buy in a moment what you sell all year.’ ” 



HONESTY AND FRIENDSHIP 87 

The rider protested and said, “ If you can prove to me that this is the 
practice of men, I will accept my fate.” Just then a buffalo appeared, 
and the snake asked him, “ What is the reward of good?” The 
buffalo answered*, ‘ ‘ According to the practice of men it is evil. Every 
year I raised calves for my master and gave him milk and butter, but 
now that I am old he plans to sell me to the butcher.” The snake 
turned triumphantly to the rider, but the latter said, “ According to 
law one witness is not enough.” So the snake turned to a tree and 
asked, “ What is the reward of good? ” The tree replied, “ Accord- 
ing to the practice of men it is evil. I give shade and rest to weary 
travellers, and then they tear off my branches to make shafts for axe 
and spade." The snake turned once more in triumph to the rider, 
but the latter said, “ Life is dear to me. I beg you, find yet one more 
witness to support you, and then I will submit without question to my 
fate.” The snake then noticed a fox who had been listening to the 
conversation, but before the question could be put to him, die fox 
cried out, “ Of course the reward of good is evil. Now tell me, what 
good has the man done to the snake that he should be rewarded with 
evil? ” The man told his story, and the fox asked the snake if he 
agreed. “ Yes,” was the reply, “ and here is the bag in which he 
lifted me.” “ How ridiculous ! ” said the fox: “ How could a huge 
snake like you get into that tiny bag ? ” “I’ll show you,” replied die 
snake, and slid back into the bag. The fox cried out, “ When you 
find your enemy in bonds, don’t release him,” and the rider, hastily 
closing the opening, beat the bag on the ground until the snake was 
dead. The proverb is now used when someone returns evil for good. 


He whose hand is severed knows the worth of a severed hand. 

A thief was sentenced to have his hand cut off. He made not the 
slightest complaint, but picked up his hand and went on his way. A 
little way off, however, he met another thief who had suffered a 
similar penalty, and at once he began to weep and wad. “ Wliy are 
you crying now,” they asked him, “ when you didn’t even murmur 
Ijefore?” “There was no one who could appreciate my loss,” 


88 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


replied the thief, “ but this man is able to sympathize with me.” A 
similar proverb says : 

He whose harvest is hrnt knows the worth of a burnt harvest. 

The tooth hurts the body, the tongue hurts the soul 

One's own pains are slight when the neighbour knocks. 

One should sacrifice one’s self in order to help others. 

He has no gruel for himself but he takes stew to his neighbour. 
Said of a generous and unselfish man. 


p. MAN’S TRUE WORTH 

A mans true worth lies in his inward qualities, not in his outward appearance. 
Only the heart of the guilty “ boils like garlic and vinegar”, only those who 
have something to conceal need to “ keep their face red with slapping ”, that is 
to say, keep up appearances. It is true that bad company may corrupt a man, 
but he who is had at heart will be “ better known than the unbelief of the 
Devil ”. “ Even his dog is better than he is.” He will be recognized hy his 
actions, no matter how he may try to hide the truth. On the other hand, the 
wise and experienced man will always be respected; his hat is worthy of his 
head 

An innocent mm goes only to the foot of the gallows. 

Gold in its purity fears nothing from the earth. 

He whose account is clear need have no fear of the day of reckon- 
ing. 

The liar is forgetful 
The liar shames himself 

- The thieving cat runs when you pick up a stick. 

A guilty man is always anxious and fearful. 

When the pot is open^ the cat forgets its manners. 

When the mosque is open, the dog forgets its manners. 

An habitual wrongdoer readily succumbs to temptation. 

A false lamp gives no light. 

89 


PERSIAN PROVERBS 


90 

A rotten aubergine gets no disease. 

A worthless person cannot get any worse. 

A mean man is vile company. 

A line from a poem by Hafez, in which he complains of the boredom 
of drinking without his beloved. 

Virtuous company makes you virtuous. 

At night the cat is the same as the sable. 

At night the ass’s foal is the same as the peacock. 

At night a cotton'-seed is the same as a pearl. 

Three proverbs comparable with the French “ La nuit tous les chats 
sont gris.” 

Two donkeys together will act alike and smell alike. 

A man is known by the company he keeps. 

Pigeon flies with pigeon^ hawk with hawk. 

This verse from Nezami compares with Farrokhi’s line : 

The muleteer goes to the cameTdriver’s house. 

That is to say, birds of a feather flock together. 

Everything reverts to its origin. 

It is useless for a man to pretend to be other than what he is. A 
hermit by his magic turned a mouse into a beautiful girl, and wished 
to give her in rnarriage. “ I will marry the strongest person in the 
world,” she said. So the hermit offered her to the sun, but the sun 
said, “ The cloud is stronger than me, for he can hide me from the 



man’s true worth 91 

eyes of men.” The hermit went to the cloud, but the cloud said, 
“The wind is stronger than me, for he can blow me where he wishes.” 
So the hermit went to the wind, but the wind said, “ The mountain 
is stronger than me, for he always stands firm against me.” So the 
hermit went to the mountam, but the mountain said, “ The mouse is 
stronger than me, for he can burrow deep into my heart.” So the 
hermit went to the mouse, but the mouse said, “ I will only marry 
someone of my own kind.” So after all the hermit was obliged to 
change tlie girl back into her original form. 

The leek springs from its seed and Hasan from his father. 

Like father, like son. 


The wolf^cuh becomes a wolf though it he raised among men. 

A verse from the Gokstan of Sa‘di. 


A beggar’s child is always a beggar’s child. 

A king was passing through the streets of his capital, when he 
observed a beautiful girl begging by the roadside. He gave orders 
that she should be taken to his andamn and there trained and educated 
in all the arts and graces by the most skilled teachers. Owing to her 
natural intelligence she progressed rapidly, and after a year of such 
teacliing she was so beautiful and accomplished that the king decided 
to take her for his wife. The girl agreed on the one condition that 
she should always take her meals alone. The king agreed to this 
condition, and the wedding duly took place. Nevertheless, the king 
was not long able to restrain his curiosity over the fact that, when meal- 
time came, she had the food served in her own room, and would not 
touch it untd the servants had gone and she had locked the door. 
Determined to probe the mystery, he instructed an old nurse to hide 
herself in the girl’s room and to report to him what happened. She 
observed that, as soon as the door was locked, the girl took each of the 
dishes and placed them in different comers of the room. Then she 
stood in front of each in turn and, in die whining tone of a beggar, 
G 



PERSIAN PROVERBS 


92 

said, “ In the name of God, spare a morsel ! ” She then took a moutli- 
ful, swallowed it greedily, and passed on to the next dish, where she 
repeated the performance. When she was finally satisfied, she put 
the dishes hack on the cloth and unlocked the door. When die king 
heard this story, he was amazed, and observed, “ The child of a beggar 
is always the child of a beggar ! ” 

Nature, not spite, ^ives the scorpion its sting, 

A tortoise and a scorpion were close friends. One day they set out 
to look for a new home, and on their way came to a broad river. 
“ How shall I cross diis ? ” exclaimed the scorpion. “ Don’t worry,” 
replied the tortoise, “ I wiU carry you safely across on my back.” 
When they were half-way across, the tortoise heard the scorpion 
moving about, and asked him what he was doing. “ I am trying 
out my sting on your shell,” he replied. “ You ungrateful wretch ! ” 
exclaimed the tortoise. “ It is true that your sting can never pierce my 
shell, but is this the way to repay me for risking my life for you? ” 
“ Forgive me,” replied the scorpion, ” but my nature requires that I 
should sting, whether it be the back of a friend or the breast of an 
enemy.” This story is from the Anvar-e Soheili. 

The repentance of the wolf is death. 

The leopard cannot change his spots. 


If the rustics a governor, the hears Avicenna. 

You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. 


Every flower has its scent. 

Everyone is not driven with the same stick. 
What is in the pot will leak from it. 



man’s true worth 93 

You won’t find fruit on a willowHree. 

Vinegar drips from the vinegar far. 

A snake rears snakes. 

The last four proverbs resemble “ A tree is blown by its fruit.” 

The handful is a sample of the donkeyAoad. 

A seeing eye is better than three hundred sticks. 

Seek the truth from a child. 

A child may hit the target in error. 

“ Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings . . The Golestm 
tells how a king was out hunting and placed his ring upon the top 
of a ruined dome. “ This ring to him who shoots an arrow through 
it ! ” he cried. Four hundred archers tried and failed. A child was 
playing on a neighbouring roof with a toy bow and arrow, and by 
chance the wind caught his arrow and carried it through the ring. 
The king praised him highly and gave him the ring ; but the boy took 
his bow and arrow and burnt them, “ for thus,” he said, “ its first 
success will remain unspoiled ”. 

Ripeness is in wisdom, not in years. 

Youth is too wild to worship God, and age too weak 

This line is from Ansari. Attar wrote : 

Once 1 had strength hut no wisdom ; now I have wisdom hut 
no strength. 



PERSIAN PROVERBS 


94 

To a wise man a nod is enoa^h. 

If anyone is at home^ a word is enough. 

One stroke is enough for a nohle horse. 

He who has knowledge has power. 

This verse comes from the opening lines of Ferdousi’s Shahnami, 
and is now used as the motto of the Persian Ministry of Education. 

Reasoned words have no answer. 

One wise man is a hat for a hundred hald heads, and a stick for 
a hundred blind men. 

The Lord Ali knows where to lead the camel. 

A Shi'ite and a Sunnite were disputing. The Shi'ite said, “ On the 
Day of Resurrection Ali will go to Heaven and Omar to Hell.” 
“ You are wrong,” said the Sunnite. ” On the Day of Resurrection 
Omar will mount a camel, and Ali will go on foot and lead it to 
Heaven.” ” If Ali is the camel-driver,” retorted the Shi ite, “ he 
will know where to lead it.” The proverb is used to express confi- 
dence in one’s own ability to perform a task ; “ leave it to me, and 
nothing will go wrong ”. For the Slii'ite and Sunnite views of Ali 
and Omar, see the Glossary. 

Dont go to the doctor, go to the man who knows. 

Still waters become stagnant. 

The kabob must be turned to cook. 

Both proverbs imply that travel is necessary for a man to gain 
wisdom and experience. The Koran says, “ Travel through the earth 


man’s true worth 


95 


and. observe the fate of those before you ” (xxx. 41). Many Persian 
poets have written on this theme, and Anvari’s line among others has 
become proverbial : 

Trauel ripens a man. 

They have killed the camel. 

All is over. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Ali Akbar Debkliod^, AmsM va Hekam (Proverbs and Sayings), 4 vols., 
Tehran, 1931. 

Amir Qoli Amini, DasthM-e Amsdl (Proverbial Tales), 2 vols., Isfahan, 
1945 - 

Yusef Rahmati, Farhang-e Ammiyani (Colloquial Dictionary), Tehran, 
1951. 

AbbSs Mohtashera Nuri, Ainsdl~e Englisi hc-Fdrst (English Proverbs in 
Persian), Tehran, 1944, 

Sobhi Mohtadi, Afsdndhd-e Kohan (Old Fables), Tehran, 1949. 

D. C. Phillott, Persian Saws and Proverbs (Memoirs of the Asiatic Society 

of Bengal, Vol. I, No. 15, pp. 302-37), Calcutta, 1906. 

J. L. Burckhardt, Arabic Proverbs, London, 1930. 

Carlo Landberg, Proverbes et Dictons du Peujrle Arabe (Vol. I), Leiden, 
1883. 

Ahmad Taimur Pasha, al-Amthal alAamtntya (Popular Proverbs), Cairo, 
1949 - 

E. J. Davis, Osmanli Proverbs and Quaint Sayings, London, 1898. 
Aesop’s Fables, a new version by the Rev. Thomas James, M.A., London, 

1848. 

Bess AUen Donaldson, The Wild Rue, a study of Muhammadan magic 
and folklore in Iran, London, 1938. 

D. L. R. and E. O. Lorimer, Persian Tales, London, 1919. 

Mashdi Galeen Khanom and L. P. Eiwell-Sutton, The Wonderful Sea- 
Horse and Other Persian Tales, London, 1950. 


96 



GLOSSARY 


(Dates are a.d., unless otherwise stated) 

Abbas, Shah (reigned 1587-1629), was one of the most famous of the 
Safavid rulers of Persia, and contemporary of Queen Elizabeth 
and the Mogul Emperor Akbar, with both of whom he corre- 
sponded. During his reign Persian art and architecture reached 
new heights, and his capital at Isfahan became renowned in Europe 
from the descriptions of the many travellers who visited it. 

Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad through his marriage 
to the latter’s daughter Fatima, is revered throughout the Shi’ite 
world, sometimes even more than the Prophet himself. He was 
assassinated in 656. See the note on Shi‘ism. 

Alvand (12,290 ft.) is situated some forty miles south of Hamadan, in 
western Persia. 

Andabun : the inner part of a Persian house, reserved for the women- 
folk and the closest male relatives. 

Ansari (1006-88) was bom in Herat, and was one of the earlier Persian 
mystical poets. 

Anushirvan (reigned 53 1-78) is known to history as “ the Just One 
of the later Sasanid rulers of Persia, he is remembered for his success- 
ful campaigns against the Roman Empire and for his reorganization 
of the country’s administration, finances and agriculture. 

Anvar-e Soheili : a somewhat ornate version of the book of Kalili va 
Demni (<j.v.), composed by the theologian Hosein Va‘ez-e Kashefi 
in the fifteenth century. 

Anvari (twelfdi century) spent most of his life in Merv and Balkh in 
Turkestan, and is generally regarded as one of the greatest of the 
Persian poets. 

Asadi (eleventh century) is chiefly known for his epic poem, the 
Garshasp-nam^, and for his Persian lexicon. 

Ashrafi : a gold coin of the eighteenth century, equivalent to a 
sovereign. 


97 



98 GLOSSARY 

Attar (d. c. 1230) was one of the greatest of the Persian mystical poets, 
among his hest known works being the Manti^ at-Tair (the Language 
of the Birds). 

Avicenna, more correctly known as Abu Ali ibn Sina, was bom about 
980 and died in 1037, Equally famous as philosopher and 
physician, he was one of those who carried on the tradition of 
Greece and transmitted it to the Islamic world and Europe. 

Bakhtiyari : a large tribe occupying the mountainous area between 
Isfahan and the head of the Persian Gulf. 

Baku : a city on the western shore of the Caspian Sea in what is now 
Soviet Azerbaijan. It has been noted for centuries for its oil 
deposits. 

Balkh : a city in Afghanistan near the Russian frontier, it is reputed to 
be one of the oldest in the world. 

Beiza : a district some twenty-five miles to the north of Shiraz in 
southern Persia. 

Bozorgmehr : Grand Vizier to Anushirvan (q.v.) and initiator of many 
of his reforms. 

Bustan : one of the poetical works of Sa'di. 

Chengiz Khan (1162-1227) began his career of world conquest in 1219, 
and at liis death his empire extended from the borders of China to 
Iraq. His sons and' successors swept across Russia into Poland and 
Hungary. Chengiz’ ruthlessness and disregard for human life are 
proverbial. 

Dajjal : the false Messiah or Antichrist who is to appear before the 
Day of Resurrection. 

Demne : V. Kalild va Demn6. 

Dervish ; a reHgious mendicant, generally belonging to one of a large 
number of orders, and distinguished by special costume and 
appurtenances. 

Dinar : one of the smallest units of Persian currency. Formerly one 
thousand, now one hundred, go to the rial (q.v.). 

Emam : according to Shi'ite doctrine the succession to the Prophet was 
carried on through his lineal descendant, Hosein, son of Ali and 
Fatima, and his children. These constitute a line of emams (some 



GLOSSARY 


99 

say twelve, some seven), the last of whom is said to have disappeared 
and will return at the end of the world. 

Farrokhi (tenth century), one of the first great poets of Moslem Persia. 

Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (he had no surviving male 
progeny), married one of his early adherents, Ali (q.v.). 

FerdoUSI (932-1020), Persia’s greatest epic poet, wrote the Shahnami 
(Book of Kings), containing in some 60,000 couplets the legendary 
history of Persia from the earliest times to the Arab conquest. 

Ghazn^ : a city in Afghanistan, about a hundred mdes south-west of 
Kabul, and at one time the capital of Soltan Malimud (q.v.). 

Goiestan : the most famous of Sa'di’s worb, containmg anecdotes in 
prose and verse covering every aspect of life. 

Hafez (d. 1389) spent his whole life in Shiraz, and is considered to be 
Persia’s greatest lyric poet. His poetry may be interpreted literally 
or mystically, and his Divan (Collected Poems) is popularly used 
for the taking of auguries. 

Halva : a sweetmeat composed of flour, butter and sugar. 

Hatem Ta'i : a legendary Arab chief celebrated in pre-Islamic poetry 
for his generosity. 

Hosein : the younger son of Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet, he was 
killed at the battle of Kerbela in 680, an event that is still mourned 
annually throughout the Shi'ite world. 

Huri : one of die beautiful maidens who will minister to the faithful 
in Paradise. 

Iraj Mirza (1874-1925), a prince of the Qajar dynasty that ruled Persia 
during the nineteenth century, is remembered for his patriotic and 
satirical poetry, and for his progressive ideas. 

Ispahan : the second largest city in Persia, and formerly the capital. 
It has long been a centre of industry and craft, and owes much of 
its beauty to Shall Abbas (q.v.). 

Jami (1414-92), one of the last great Persian poets, was famous also as 
a mystic and a scholar. 

Jerjis : St. George, who is included by Islam among the prophets. 

Jenn : spirits said to be present everywhere, and generally ill-disposed 
or at any rate in need of propitiation. 



100 


GLOSSARY 


Kabob : a cube of meat tlireaded on to a skewer or spit and roasted 
over a charcoal brazier. 

Kaihe va Demne : a Persian version of the Fables of Bidpai or Pilpai, 
translated by Nasrollah of Ghaznd in the middle of the twelfth 
century from the Arabic of Ibn al-Muqaffa*, who himself translated 
it from the Pahlavi in about 750. The Pahlavi translation was made 
during the reign of Anushirvan from the original Sanskrit, but is 
no longer extant. 

Kei Kavus : a legendary king of Persia, possibly to be identified with 
the Median king Cyaxares (633-584 B.C.). 

Kerbela : a holy city in Iraq, 100 miles south of Baghdad, and the 
scene of the death of Hosein (q.v.) in 680. 

Kerman ; a city in soudi-eastem Persia, 300 miles west of Shiraz. 

Khonsar : a town in central Persia, 100 miles north-west of Isfahan. 

Kurd : a tribe occupying the western and north-western areas of Persia. 
Many Kurds are also to be found in Iraq, Turkey and Syria. 

Leila : the heroine of a famous love-story, treated by Nezami and other 
poets. Like Juliet, she was forbidden by her family to see her 
lover, who as a result lost his reason — ^whence his name Majnun 
(q.v.) — and wandered into the desert. Leila followed him, but 
was caught by her own people before she could save him. 

Lor : a tribe occupying the western areas of Persia, between the Kurds 
and the Bakhtiyaris (q.v.). 

Mahmud, Soitan (reigned 998-1030) : had his capital at Ghazn6, and 
conquered much of Persia, India and other lands. He also patron- 
ized many of the famous men of letters of the time. 

Majnun : the “ maddened one ”, hero of the story of Leila and Majnun 
(v. Leila). 

Masnavi : striedy speaking, any poem composed in rhymed couplet 
form ; the name is especially applied to the great allegorical poem 
of Jalal ad-Din Rumi (q.v.). 

Mas'ud Sa‘d Salman (d. 1121 or 1131) was an early poet of dis- 
tinction. 

Maund : a weight varying in different parts of Persia from six to 
twelve pounds, the latter in Isfahan. 



GLOSSARY 


lOI 


Mazandaran : a province of Persia bordering the southern and south- 
eastern shores of the Caspian Sea. 

Moharram : the first month of the Moslem (lunar) year, and the month 
in winch Hosein was killed at Kerbela. His death is still re-enacted 
during this month by pious Shfites. 

Molla : a Shi'itc religious dignitary corresponding as nearly as may 
be to the village priest (though no priesthood as such exists in 
Islam). 

Nader Shah (reigned 1736-47) united Persia for a brief period, and 
extended his conquests into India. 

Naser ad-Din Shah (reigned 1848-96), the fourth ruler of the Qajar 
dynasty, was the first reigning Shah of Persia to visit Europe — in 
1873, 1878 and 1889. 

Naser-e Khosrou (1004-88), a noted traveller and poet. 

Nasr ad-Din, Molla : a fictitious comic character, about whom many 
stories are told illustrating rustic simplicity and logic. In Turkey 
he is known as Hoca Nasrettin, and in Egypt as Goha. 

Nezami (1141-1203), one of Persia’s greatest mystical and romantic 
poets, was bom in Ganje, in what is now Soviet Azerbaijan. 

Omar : the second of the Orthodox Caliphs, or successors of the Prophet 
Muhammad. He is not recognized by the Shi‘ites, who execrate 
his name. 

PoLOU : a dish of rice, vegetables, chopped meat or chicken, etc. 

Qazi : a magistrate responsible for administering the Islamic law, by 
which all justice was guided until recent times. 

Reza, Emam (d. 816): the eighth of the Emams according to the 
orthodox branch of the Shfites, who recognize twelve in all. He 
is buried in Mashliad, in the north-east of Persia, where his shrine 
is next in importance to Kerbela as a place of pilgrimage. 

Rial : a coin worth at present about i^d., but considerably more in 
earlier times. The name is derived from the Spanish real 

Rostam : a legendary Persian hero. The story of his fight with his son 
Sohrab is told in brief on page 31, and is known to the English- 
speaking world through the version by Matthew Arnold. 

Rumi, Jalal ad-Din (1207-73), possibly the most famous and revered 



102 


GLOSSARY 


of all Persia’s mystical poets. His monumental Masnavi is some- 
times known as the “ Persian Koran 

Sabzevar : a town in the nortli-east of Persia, about 150 miles west of 
Mashhad. 

Sa’di (1184-1291) travelled widely during his lifetime, falling captive 
to the Crusaders at one time, and returned in his old age to his 
native town of Shiraz, where he set down in writing his accumu- 
lated experience and knowledge. 

Safar : the second month of the Moslem (lunar) year. 

Sana'i (c. 1045-1141), one of Persia’s most distinguished mystical poets. 
His best known work is the Hadiqat al-Haqiqa (the Garden of Truth), 

Saved : a man claiming descent from the Prophet through his daughter 
Fatima, and entitled to wear a green sash. 

Sedeh : a village near Isfalian, whose inhabitants are noted for their 
simplicity. 

Shahi : a coin worth half a rial (q.v.). 

SHAHNA\d : the Book of Kings, the great epic poem composed by 
Ferdousi. 

Sheikh Baha’i (1546-1622) was bom in Syria and came with his father 
to Persia as refugees from Suimite persecution. He wrote a number 
of theological works and poems. 

Shemr : the man held responsible by the Shi’ites for the death of Hosein 
at Kerbela. 

Sm’iSM : Islam divided at an early date into two great sects, die Shi’ites 
and the Sunnites. The dispute originally arose as one of succession 
to the Prophet, the Sunnites holding that the Caliphs should be 
elected, as were the first four, Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman and Ali, 
while the Shi’ites supported the claims of Ali’s sons as the direct 
descendants of the Prophet through his daughter Fatima. The 
dispute flared up after the death of Othman, when Ali was chal- 
lenged by Mu’awiya, who established himself as Caliph m Damascus. 
After Ali’s assassination in 656, his sons Hasan and Hosein continued 
his claim ; the former abdicated in 661, and the latter was slain on 
the battle-field of Kerbela in 680. Shi’ism subsequendy became 
a vehicle for the discontents of the under-privileged, and for Persian 



GLOSSARY 


103 

nationalism and religious ideas. Its adherents are now largely 
concentrated in Persia (where it is the State religion) and Iraq. 

Shiraz : a city in south Persia, birthplace of Sa'di, Hafez and other 
famous men. 

Shoja , Shah (reigned I357~84), the second of the Mozaffarid dynasty, 
who ruled over Yazd, Kerman, Shiraz and Kurdistan. He was a 
patron of the poet Hafez. 

SoHRAB : a legendary Persian hero (v. Rostam). 

Sunnite : an adherent of one of the two major divisions in Islam, the 
other being the Shi'ites (q-v.). 

Tatar : a general term for the Turkish and Mongol inhabitants of 
Central Asia. 

Tehran: tlie capital of Persia since 1794. It lies about 100 miles south 
of the Caspian Sea, from which it is separated by the Elborz 
Mountains, and has at present a population of about 1,000,000. 

Tuman : a coin equal in value to ten rials. 

Turan : the legendary enemy of Iran, and evidently to be identified 
with the Turks of Central Asia. 

Turcoman : a name given to the nomadic inhabitants of Turkestan, 
who in the past frequently raided over the border into the Persian 
province of Khorasan in the north-east. 

Vaqf : property administered as a religious endowment or trust, for the 
upkeep of a mosque or shrine, or in general for the benefit of the 
poor. 

Yazd : a city in south-east Persia, the main centre of the now almost 
extinct Zoroastrian community of Persia. 

ZoLALi (d. 1615), a comparatively undistinguished figure in Persia’s 
more recent literary history. 

Zoroaster : the founder of the ancient religion of Persia, his traditional 
dates are 660-583 b.c. His teaching included the doctrine of the 
perpetual conflict between good and evil, between light and dark- 
ness — whence the erroneous assumption that it involved sun- 
worship. Zoroastrianism was largely displaced by Islam (though 
the Persian form of Shi'ism incorporated many of its doctrines), 
but it has survived in Yazd and in the Parsi community of Bombay. 


Books of similar interest in 
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ARABIC and PERSIAN POETRY 

HAFIZ OF SHIRAZ. Thirty Poems translated by Peter 
Avery and John Heath-Stubbs. 

THE PERSIAN MYSTICS. The Invocations of Sheikh Ab- 
dullah Ansari of Herat, a.d. 1005-1090. By Sardar S:r 
J oGENDRA Singh, Foreword by Mahatma Gandhi. 

THE DIWAN OF ABU’L-ALA. By Henry Baerlein. 


ARABIC and PERSIAN PHILOSOPHY 

AN ARAB PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY. Selections from the 
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lated by Charles Issawi, M.A. “ Mr. Issawi has earned 
the gratitude of the English-speaking world by introducing 
it in admirably translated sections to the work of one of the 
greatest Arab sages." — Truth. 


AVICENNA ON THEOLOGY. Translated by Professor A. J. 
Arberry, Litt.D. “ Professor Arberry’s little book is a 
worthy tribute from the Western world to a genius which is 
truly described as that ' of one of the profoundest and most 
courageous thinkers in history.’ ” — Truth. 


THE SPIRITUAL PHYSICK OF RHAZES. Translated from 
the Arabic by Professor A. J. Arberry, Litt.D. “ The 
Introduction could hardly be bettered. It tells readers 
exactly what they want to know, clearly and without a word 
being wasted, with chamr as' well as learning.” — Journal 
of the Royal CentrayAsiari 




THE MYSTERIES OF SELFLESSNESS. By the late Sir 
Muhammad Iqbal. Translated by Professor A. J. 
Arberry, Litt.D. “ Professor Arberry’s admirable trans- 
lation provides an opportunity to understand something of 
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General Titles in 
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LITERATURES OF THE EAST : An Appreciation. Edited by 
Eric B. Ceadel. With an Introduction by Professor 
A. J. Arberry, Litt.D. ” This work is a valuable intro- 
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Supplement, 

EASTERN SCIENCE. An Outline of its Scope and Contribu- 
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proved splendidly equal to the task ; a thoroughly satis- 
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THE GLAD TIDINGS OF BAHA’U'LLAH. Extracts from the 
Sacred Writings of the Bahd’is, with an Introduction and 
Notes by George Townshend, M.A. “ Enlightened and 
useful.” — Aryan Path. 

MANIFOLD UNITY. The Ancient World's Perception of the 
Divine Pattern of Harmony and Compassion. By Collum. 

ONE IN ALL. An Anthology of Religion from the Sacred 
Scriptures of the Living Faiths. Compiled by Edith B- 
ScHNAPPER, Ph.D, With an Introduction by Baron Erik 
Palmstierna. ” A thoughtful and judicious selection.” — 
Aryan Path. 





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